TN 31 (08-17)

PR 08005.043 Puerto Rico

A. PR 17-116 Entitlement to Student Benefits on the Record of NH Based on Status as a Full-Time Student, Homeschooling in Puerto Rico

Date: July 11, 2017

1. Syllabus

The opinion provides a description of the requirements for home schooling in Puerto Rico. The Seton Home School Program based in Arlington, Virginia, offers secondary education and is considered an educational institution under the laws of Puerto Rico.

2. Opinion

QUESTION PRESENTED

Whether S~ (S~), a home school student in Puerto Rico, can be considered a full-time student at an Educational Institution and, therefore, entitled to student benefits on the record of his mother, L~, the Number Holder (NH), for the period of March 2016 through the date of his graduation from the home school program.

OPINION

We believe the totality of the evidence indicates S~’s course of study satisfies the requirements for full-time attendance, and thus, he can be considered a full-time secondary school student for that period. Accordingly, S~ is entitled to benefits on the record of the NH from March 2016 through the date of his graduation from the home school program.

BACKGROUND

The NH, who was S~’s mother, passed away on October XX, 2010. S~, who was born March XX, 1998, began receiving Surviving Child’s benefits on her record. His benefits were terminated in March 2016, when he turned 18 years old.

In a Student’s Statement Regarding School Attendance (Form SSA-1372) dated March XX, 2016, S~ stated that he was enrolled as a student in the Seton Home School Program (Seton) based in Arlington, Virginia from September 30, 2015 through September 30, 2016. He further provided that he was home schooled for 60 hours per week, and expected to graduate from Seton in May 2016. Seton’s Director of Guidance, C~, certified that S~’s statements were true, and that the school’s course of study was at least 13 weeks in duration and operated on a yearly basis.

In connection with his Form SSA-1372, S~ submitted a Cumulative High School Grade Report from Seton, which listed that S~ studied Algebra II, American History, English 11, Religion 9, Spanish I, and Visual Basic in eleventh grade. The form further indicated that S~ studied Advanced Math I, American Government, English 12, Physics, Religion 12, and Spanish II in twelfth grade. S~a also submitted sample lesson plans from his English 12 course, which included reading assignments and written exercises. The lesson plan instructs the student to send certain written assignments to Seton for grading, and to report parent-teacher-graded assignments to Seton on a quarterly report form. If no parent-teacher grades are recorded, the student’s Seton grade is based solely on work graded by Seton. Assignments can be sent to Seton by mail or over the Internet, at the time completed or at the end of the quarter.

In a second statement dated April 28, 2016, S~ explained that he received course materials from Seton at the beginning of the school year, and had one full calendar year to complete the courses. S~ stated that he set his own pace in each course, and that “there is no fixed schedule for any of my classes. Some of my classes require more time then (sic) others. It is difficult to say any set time a course could take to complete.” When asked for attendance records, S~ stated that Seton does not have attendance logs or records.

In a statement dated May 6, 2016, under “Basic Information About the Instructor in the Seton Program,” L2~ explained that she helped S~ with his physics and math courses for approximately two to three hours each day. She further stated that S~ did not have Seton instructors for his other Seton courses, but that Seton had various instructors if S~ required assistance. The District Manager of the Mayaguez District Office further noted that S~’s guardian provided additional instruction at home utilizing educational materials provided by Seton.

S~ presented evidence that he had been accepted to the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez.

ANALYSIS

A. Social Security Laws, Regulations, and Policy

Under the Social Security Act (Act), an individual may continue to receive child’s benefits past the age of 18 if he is a full-time elementary or secondary school student. See Act § 202(d) (1)(E); 42 U.S.C. § 402 (d)(1)(E); 20 C.F.R. § 404.367. To be eligible, the individual must meet the requirements for child’s benefits; attain age 18; be in full-time attendance; attend an Educational Institution; and not have attained age 19. Program Operations Manual System (POMS) RS 00205.001. The Act defines a full-time elementary or secondary school student as an “individual who is in full-time attendance at an elementary or secondary school . . . .” Act § 202(d)(7)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(7)(A). An elementary or secondary school is defined under the Act as “a school which provides elementary or secondary education under the laws of the State or other jurisdiction in which it is located.” Act § 202(d)(7)(C)(i); 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(7)(C)(i). This can include home schooling. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a); POMS RS 00205.275.

Student benefits are payable to a home schooled student if the following criteria are satisfied:

The law of the State or jurisdiction in which the home school is located recognizes the home school as an “Educational Institution”;

The home school meets the requirements of State law where the student resides;

The student meets the Federal standards for full-time attendance found at 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b),(c), and POMS RS 00205.300C; and

The student meets all the other requirements for benefits.

POMS RS 00205.275. An “Educational Institution” is a school that provides elementary or secondary education, as determined under the law of the State or other jurisdiction in which it is located. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a); POMS RS 00205.200. The Federal standards for full-time attendance require that the student is:

1) scheduled for attendance at the rate of at least 20 hours per week;

2) enrolled in a course that is not a correspondence course; and

3) enrolled in a course of study that is of at least 13 weeks duration.

20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)-(c); POMS RS 00205.300C. The POMS provide that a finding of full-time attendance may be justified even if the student attends less than 20 hours per week if: 1) the school’s standards do not require at least 20 hours of weekly scheduled attendance for the student to be considered full-time, and attending that school is the student’s only reasonable alternative; or 2) the student’s medical condition precludes 20 hours of attendance per week. See POMS RS 00205.310.A.

The POMS also provides guidance as to what type of evidence can be submitted to prove that a home school satisfies State requirements and standards. Such evidence may include: “[a] copy of the certificate of intent; [d]ocumentation that State-mandated tests [are] taken; [t]he education level of the home school teacher; [a] list of the courses being taught; or [a] copy of the attendance log or chart.” POMS RS 00205.275C.

B. Puerto Rico Laws and Guidelines

As relevant to the period at issue, the Constitution of Puerto Rico already provided that students may attend schools established under the auspices of non-governmental entities. Puerto Rico Const. Art. II, § 5; 18 L.P.R.A. § 2. Home schooling was specifically recognized as an educational alternative by the Departamento de La Familia (Department of Family Affairs), through its nutritional and financial assistance subcomponent, Administración de Desarrollo Socioeconómico de La Familia (Administration for the Socioeconomic Development of the Family). This subcomponent allows home schooled students to apply for food stamp benefits, and provides a form for a teacher to certify that a student is being home schooled.

Additionally, home schooling is recognized by the Departamento de Educacion de Puerto Rico Education (Department of Education of Puerto Rico), which has created the Unidad de Estudios de Equivalencia (UEE), an office dedicated to the integration of children into the Puerto Rico public school system. The UEE will consider applications from home schooled students to integrate into the Puerto Rico public school system. In order to integrate into the public school system, the home school must provide the UEE with a portfolio of work assigned, reading list for each school year and grade, and transcripts. The UEE evaluates the submitted materials and determines on a case-by-case basis if the student’s home school education is sufficient to allow the student to integrate into the public school system. Universities in Puerto Rico generally have their own criteria for evaluating home-schooled students; however, some Puerto Rico universities will request the same documentation as the UEE.

The House of Representatives in Puerto Rico attempted to regulate home schooling in 2006 when it introduced a bill titled “Ley de Educación en el Hogar de Puerto Rico.” Anecdotal evidence from Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) suggests that the bill was defeated because it was too restrictive and an infringement upon parents’ constitutional rights to home school their children.

In October 2013, a second bill was introduced in the Puerto Rico Senate to regulate home schooling in Puerto Rico. However, there were no votes on the bill, and no action was taken since the bill was referred to a Senate committee on April 6, 2015. Accordingly, it does not appear that Puerto Rico established standards, guidelines, or a curriculum for home schools during the relevant period of time.

C. S~ Was a Full-Time Secondary School Student During the Relevant Time Period

1. S~’s Home School is Recognized in Puerto Rico as an “Educational Institution” and Satisfies the Requirements of Puerto Rico Law

S~ was home schooled in Puerto Rico, and thus, Puerto Rico law determines if his home school is considered an “Educational Institution” that satisfies the requirements of State law. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)(1); POMS RS 00205.275.

Puerto Rico, through its various governmental agencies, has recognized the home school as an institution that provides an elementary or secondary education. The Department of the Family recognizes home schooling as a legitimate form of schooling, and the Department of Education allows home school students to integrate into the public school system. Thus, Puerto Rico, through its various governmental agencies, recognizes the home school as an “Educational Institution.”

Puerto Rico does not set standards for home schools or require that they receive certification from the government. Additionally, Puerto Rico law does not regulate a home school student’s course of study or set guidelines for a home school curriculum. S~ was registered as a student of Seton during the relevant period, and therefore received a home school education in accordance with Puerto Rico law. Accordingly, S~’s home school is an “Educational Institution” that satisfies the requirements of Puerto Rico law.

2. S~’s Attendance Satisfies the Federal Requirements for Full-Time Attendance.

Pursuant to the SSA guidelines, a student is considered to be in full-time attendance if he meets both State and Federal standards for full-time attendance. As noted above, there are no specific requirements for home schooled students under Puerto Rico law, and thus, S~’s attendance satisfied Puerto Rico’s requirements for full-time attendance.

S~ stated in his SSA-1372 that he is scheduled to attend 60 hours per week, and the school’s Director of Guidance certified that the claimant’s statements are true. Although, S~ was not able to provide proof of attendance or evidence of a weekly schedule, he was able to provide evidence that he had been accepted to the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez, which shows that a university deemed S~’s course of study as satisfactory for the purposes of admission. Thus, we believe there is sufficient evidence verifying that S~ attended home school at the rate of at least 20 hours per week during the relevant period of time. See POMS RS 00205.300C. Further, we are satisfied that S~ was not enrolled in a correspondence course. The POMS defines a correspondence school as a school that teaches by mailing lessons and exercises to the student, and upon completion, the student returns the exercises to the school for grading. POMS RS 00205.330A. The POMS dis