PR 07905.056 Wyoming
A. PR 03-002 Whether First Assembly Christian Academy Qualifies as an Education Institution Under the Laws of Wyoming (Your reference number S2D8b52ms)
DATE: September 30, 2002
The First Assembly Christian Academy (FAC Academy) in Cheyenne, WY, provides education that meets all the requirements of Wyoming's compulsory school attendance law. Thus, FAC Academy is an eduational institution for SSA purposes.
You have requested our opinion as to whether the First Assembly Christian Academy located in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a religious, private, nonaccredited school, qualifies as an “educational institution” within the meaning of section 202(d)(7) of the Social Security Act (the Act), 42 U.S.C. S 402(d)(7). It is our opinion that the school does qualify as an educational institution because it complies with the state compulsory attendance statutes.
The very limited materials provided to us indicate that Nicolas L. E~ (Nicolas), presumably a beneficiary of child's benefits, attends or attended the First Assembly Christian Academy (FAC Academy) in Cheyenne, Wyoming. You indicated that the FAC Academy is not approved or accredited by the State of Wyoming. You also indicated that the FAC Academy
Provides elementary and secondary education for grades Kindergarten through high school (12);
Requires teachers to have three years teaching experience in private school but does not require certification;
Is in session 180 days per year, although previously was in session for only 175 days per year;
Uses “School of Tomorrow for Christian Schools” teaching materials;
Keeps computerized school records; and
Provides courses in Civics, Math, History, English, and Physical Education.
Finally, you noted that Nicolas was or is taking courses in English literature, Civics, Economics, Physical Education, bible, and Business Math, and attended or is attending school for 20 hours per week.
We contacted the school to obtain further information about the FAC Academy. The school does provide a diploma to students upon successful completion of the twelfth grade: an Accelerated, Christian Education, or ACE, diploma. According to the school, this diploma is accepted by many colleges as evidence of high school graduation. Also, the FAC Academy is housed in a building, formerly a junior high school building, purchased by the First Assembly Christian Church; the Church is also housed in the building.
Relevant Federal and State Law
The Social Security Act provides for benefits for children of individuals entitled to Social Security benefits or of individuals who die with sufficient Social Security insurance coverage. See 42 U.S.C. 402(d). Eligibility for child's insurance benefits usually terminates when the child attains age 18. See id. 402(d) (1)(b), (6) (7). Eligibility for child's benefits may continue, however, if (among other things) the child “was a full-time elementary or secondary student and had not attained the age of 19.” See id. 402(d)(1).
A “full-time elementary or secondary student” is an individual who is in full-time attendance as a student at an elementary or secondary school, as determined by the Commissioner (in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Commissioner) in light of the standards and practices of the schools involved . . . .
Id. 402(d)(7)(A). “An 'elementary or secondary school' is a school which provides elementary or secondary education, respectively, as determined under the law of the State or other jurisdiction in which it is located.” Id. 402(d)(7)(C)(i). Except for two specific exceptions noted in the Social Security regulations, the student must be scheduled to attend school for at least 20 hours per week in order to be considered a full-time student. See 20 C.F.R. 404.367(c) (2001); see also Memorandum, Status of Life Christian High School, St. Louis, Missouri, as an Educational Institution, . . ., RCC VII (Smith/Meehan) to ARC MOS, SSA RVII, Aug. 17, 2001.
Wyoming has few legal requirements relevant to religiously-based private schools. Indeed, parochial, church, and religious schools are expressly exempted from the State's statutes pertaining to private school licensing. Wyo. Stat. Ann. 21-2-406 (West, WESTLAW through 2002).
Wyoming's compulsory school attendance provisions provide that
[e]very parent, guardian or other person having control or charge of any child who is a resident of [Wyoming] and whose seventh birthday falls on or before September 15 of any year and who has not yet attained his sixteenth birthday or completed the tenth grade shall be required to send such child to, and such child shall be required to attend, a public or private school each year, during the entire time that the public schools shall be in session in the district in which the pupil resides . . . .
Wyo. Stat. Ann. 21-4-102 (emphasis added). The statute defines “private school” as “any nonpublic, elementary or secondary school providing a basic academic educational program for children and may include parochial and church or religious schools and home-based educational programs . . . .” Id. 21-4-101(iii) (emphasis added). A “parochial, church or religious school” is a school that is “operated under the auspices or control of a local church or religious congregation or a denomination established to promote and promulgate the commonly held religious doctrines of the group though it may also include basic academic subjects in its curriculum.” Id. 21-4-101(a)(iv). The statute expressly states that “nothing” contained in Wyoming laws pertaining to private school licensing “grants to the state of Wyoming or any of its officers, agencies or subdivisions any right or authority to control, manage, supervise or make any suggestions as to the control, management or supervision of any parochial, church or religious school . . . .” Id. A “[b]asic academic educational program is one that provides a sequentially progressive curriculum of fundamental instruction in reading, writing, mathematics, civics, history, literature and science. . . .” Id. 21-4-101(a)(vi).
Finally, Wyoming law provides that schools be operated for a minimum of 175 days each school year. Id. 21-4-301.
Based on the information available, the FAC Academy provides a “basic educational program” for its students and apparently always required attendance of its students for a minimum of 175 days. Wyoming's compulsory school attendance law may be complied with by attendance at a private school, which includes a religious school such as the FAC Academy. As a result, we conclude that the FAC Academy does provide secondary education under the law of the State of Wyoming and is an educational institution under Social Security law and regulations.
The lack of approval or accreditation of the school under Wyoming law does not detract from our conclusion. Legal opinions from the Office of the General Counsel have addressed the issue of whether an institution that has not been accredited by the state in which it is located can qualify as an educational institution. See Memorandum, Status of Circle Christian Academy as an Educational Institution , RCC RVIII (Luedemann/Ertl-Lombardi) to ARC, SSA, May 1, 1992; Memorandum, Educational Institution Status of Gethsemane Christian Academy , RCC RIII (Bradley/Winn) to RC, SSA, August 21, 1991; Memorandum, Determining the Educational Institution (EI) Status of Liberty Christian School (LCS), RCC RV (Weinstein/Michaelson) to RC, SSA, November 15, 1990; Memorandum, Status of Northwest Indian Bible School as an Educational Institution, RCC RVIII (Leudemann/Blair) to RC, SSA, January 26, 1990. These opinions concluded that there was legal support for the conclusion that an educational institution need not be affirmatively accredited or approved by the state, and that if a nonpublic school meets all of the requirements under the state's compulsory education law, the school can be found to provide an education that is recognized under state law.
Finally, with regard to Nicolas, you indicated that he attended or attends school for twenty hours per week. Thus, Nicolas met or meets the regulatory requirement of at least 20 hours attendance per week.