TN 5 (09-09)

PR 08105.002 Alaska

A. PR 09-165 Eligibility for Student Benefits in Guided Independent Study Program (GIS) in the State of Alaska – REPLY

DATE: February 17, 2009

1. SYLLABUS

The Guided Independent Study (GIS) Program in the State of Alaska, which changed to Building Educational Success Together (BEST), is a correspondence course. A student enrolled in a correspondence course, even if the correspondence school meets the definition of an educational institution (i.e., it provides education in accordance with State law), is not in full-time attendance for SSA purposes unless the student is unable to attend regular classes for part of a school year due to circumstances beyond his or her control. A student attending GIS or BEST who does not meet this exception does not satisfy the eligibility requirements for student benefits.

2. OPINION

Questions Presented

Whether an 18-year enrolled in an independent study program in Alaska can qualify for student benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act? What evidence is required to establish eligibility for students in such a program?

Answers

We recommend that you find that the student does not satisfy the eligibility requirements for student benefits. The student is enrolled in a correspondence course, which is specifically excluded by the regulations. The regulations and the Program Operations Manual (POMS) do not specify what type of evidence is required to establish eligibility for such programs and each case is fact specific.

Factual Background

The following information was provided with the request for a legal opinion:

The number holder, S.L., filed for and was awarded disability benefits beginning September 2001. He filed for child’s benefits for his daughter (Ms. L.), who was entitled from September 2001 through June 2008. Her benefits terminated July 2008, the month she turned age 18…. Ms. L. has been enrolled since February 2008, in a guided independent study program coordinated through the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.

The following attachments were provided with your request: 1) Page 2 of Student’s Statement Regarding School Attendance (Form SSA-1372-BK) signed by Ms. L. and a secretary at her school; 2) a School District Student Four-Year Plan, Graduation Requirement Checklist; 3) a 2007-2008 GIS Student Enrollment Form; 4) a letter dated May 1, 2008, from the registrar at the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District GIS; and 5) a letter dated May 2, 2008, from the Director of Student Support Services at the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District GIS.

Additionally, the following information was provided: the school reported that the GIS program had changed to Building Educational Success Together (BEST), which offers online classes or home schooling. Ms. L. was not scheduled for any particular hours, that she set her own hours of study, and that she studied 3 hours a day, 7 days a week. Ms. L. was considered full time by the school based on the number of courses she was taking, not the number of hours of attendance. Ms. L. took classes all year long beginning August 15, 2007, through August 14, 2008, and was currently enrolled from August 15, 2008, through August 14, 2009. Ms. L. is a junior in high school. The school provided the Fairbanks BEST Online Learning Handbook 2008-09, and the Program Compact of Shared Responsibilities.

With regard to both GIS and BEST programs, the school reported that the goal is a high school diploma and that each student’s enrollment form, listing his or her current classes, is the student’s individual learning plan. BEST’s requirement for full time attendance is 10 courses per year, 5 in each semester. Prior to the change to BEST, the expectation for GIS students was to complete one lesson every 20 school days. The school emphasized that this is an accredited online correspondence school as advertised on the school’s website at www.fairbanksbest.com. The website’s opening page has “Fairbanks Correspondence” on a banner across the top of the page. The website states that BEST’s online learning program is a fully accredited program that provides online courses for students within the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District with the goal of receiving a nationally and regionally recognized high school diploma.

Discussion

A. Social Security Program Requirements.

In order to be eligible to receive child’s insurance benefits, an individual who is 18 years of age but has not attained age 19 must be a full-time elementary or secondary school student at an educational institution. See 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1)(B). A full-time elementary or secondary school student includes being instructed in elementary or secondary education in an independent study program that is administered by the local school or school district in accordance with the law of the State or other jurisdiction in which the student resides. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)(2). “Independent study” requires, among other things, periodic teacher contact, direction, and testing on campus. POMS RS 00205.285(A).

A student is considered in full-time attendance (FTA) if she is in “a day or evening noncorrespondence course of at least 13 weeks duration” and is carrying a subject load which is considered full-time for day students under the institution’s standards and practices. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b). “A correspondence school is a school that teaches by mailing lessons and exercises to the student. Upon completion, the student returns the exercises to the school for grading.” POMS RS 00205.330(A). Student benefits are payable if the student is in FTA based on Federal standards and in a school that provides elementary or secondary education as determined under state law. POMS RS 00205.285.

B. State of Alaska Requirements.

The State of Alaska has authorized elementary and secondary correspondence study programs in both statutory laws and administrative rules. Alaska Stat. §§ 14.07.020, 14.07.030(8), 14.17.430; Alaska Admin. Code tit. 4, §§ 33.405-33.490 (2008); see also Alaska Department of Education at http://www.eed.state.ak.us/Alaskan_Schools/corres/. The specific requirements for correspondence study programs are set out in the administrative rules at title 4, section 33.421, available at http://www.legis.state.ak.us/cgi-bin/folioisa.dll/aac/query=[jump!3A!27title4chap33!2C+a!2E+4!27]/doc/{@15504}?

C. Analysis.

1. The first requirement of POMS RS 00205.285(B) - FTA.

A student in an independent study program can qualify for benefits if the student meets the Federal standards for FTA set out in POMS RS 00205.300(C). POMS RS 00205.85(B). To meet Federal standards for FTA, the student must be:

* Scheduled for attendance at the rate of at least 20 hours per week….;

* Enrolled in a course that is not a correspondence course….; and

* Enrolled in a course of study that is of at least 13 weeks’ duration (internal citation omitted).

POMS RS 00205.300(C).

a. 20-hour per week requirement Ms.

L. reported that she set her own hours and studies 3 hours a day, 7 days a week. Further, Ms. L. was considered to be a full time student by the school based on the number of courses she was taking, not the number of hours of attendance.

If attendance is less than 20 hours per week, FTA may be justified if the school’s standards do not require at least 20 hours of weekly scheduled attendance and attending that school is the student’s only reasonable alternative; or if the student’s medical condition precludes 20 hours of attendance. POMS RS 00205.310(A) (emphasis added). There is no evidence that attending GIS and/or BEST are Ms. L.’s “only reasonable alternative[s]” or that she has a medical condition which precludes 20 hours of attendance. Furthermore, we have no information about the number of hours she spent studying in the 2007-2008 school term. Ms. L. left the number of hours blank on her Form SSA-1372-BK. Her enrollment form states that “full time students in the GIS program must submit at least one lesson every 20 school days in each course.” The form does not state the required number of hours for study or attendance. Because neither the GIS nor the BEST programs require attendance at the rate of at least 20 hours per week, and Ms. L. does not meet the exceptions for less than 20 hours, the first criteria of the Federal standards for FTA has not been met.

b. Course may not be a correspondence course

The school emphasized that this is an accredited online correspondence school. The school’s website at www.fairbanksbest.com has “Fairbanks Correspondence” on a banner across the top of the page. The website states that BEST’s courses are 100% online. We have no evidence that Ms. L.’s online courses are interactive or in a virtual classroom setting. The evidence submitted shows that she is enrolled in correspondence courses. A student is not in FTA based on correspondence school courses even if the correspondence school meets the definition of an EI, unless the student is unable to attend regular classes for a portion of the school year due to circumstances beyond her control. POMS RS 00205.330(B). The student may be in FTA for that portion she was unable to attend regular classes if she enrolls in correspondence courses covering subjects acceptable to her regular school; is expected to return to regular school; is granted full credit from her regular school for the courses; and is taking sufficient credits to be considered full time. Id. We have no evidence that Ms. L. is unable to attend regular classes for a portion of the school year due to circumstances beyond her control. The evidence shows she attends no regular classes at any time during the year and no evidence has been presented to show that she is expected to return to regular school. Because the GIS and the BEST programs meet the definition of a correspondence course, and because none of the exceptions apply, these programs do not meet the second criteria of the Federal standards for FTA.

c. 13-week durational requirement

Ms. L. indicated on Form SSA-1372-BK that the school year was “year round.” She clarified that she takes classes all year, but her dates of attendance began on August 15, 2007, and ended on August 14, 2008, and that the current school term began August 15, 2008, and ends August 14, 2009. The school official certified that the school’s course of study is at least 13 weeks in duration. See POMS RS 00205.300(C). Because the GIS and BEST programs meet the 13-week durational requirement, the programs meet the third criteria of the Federal standards for FTA.

The information supplied is silent on whether the school district’s and/or the state’s full-time attendance requirements meet the Federal requirements for FTA. Although Ms. L. appears to meet the school district’s full-time attendance requirements, her attendance does not meet either the first or second criteria of the Federal standards for FTA.

Summary

A student can qualify for benefits only if she meets both Federal requirements for independent study. She must be in FTA based on Federal standards and the school must provide elementary or secondary education as determined under State law. POMS RS 00205.285(B). Ms. L. does not meet the first requirement of FTA based on Federal standards. Thus, she cannot qualify even if she met the second requirement alone.

Conclusion

We recommend that you find Ms. L.’s independent study programs, GIS and BEST, do not satisfy the requirements for eligibility for student benefits.


To Link to this section - Use this URL:
http://policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/1508105002
PR 08105.002 - Alaska - 09/03/2009
Batch run: 11/12/2013
Rev:09/03/2009