PR 08105.007 Colorado
A. PR 02-140 Status of Independent Study Program in Colorado (NH David B~)
DATE: July 26, 2002
Viable Interactive Long-distance Alternative Schooling (VILAS) in Colorado is an independent study program and provides secondary education in accordance with Colorado law. Thus, VILAS is an educational institution for SSA purposes. The student must also meet Federal standards for full-time attendance and all other requirements for payment of benefits.
You asked whether the V.I.L.A.S. Interactive Long-Distance Alternative School (V.I.L.A.S. School), an internet-based electronic school, could qualify as an elementary or secondary school under Colorado law. You indicated that this information is necessary to determine whether Shalyn B~, a Colorado secondary school student at the V.I.L.A.S. School, qualifies for child insurance benefits (CIB) on the account of David B~.
We conclude that the V.I.L.A.S. School, which is an independent study program as defined under the Program Operations Manual System (POMS), qualifies as a secondary school under Colorado law.
Shalyn was entitled to CIB on the account of David B~. She turned eighteen in September 2005. She completed a Form SSA 1372-BK, Student's Statement Regarding School Attendance, indicating that she was to attend the V.I.L.A.S. School from September 6, 2005, to May 31, 2006. A school official verified the information on the statement. You have indicated there is no question regarding the status of Shalyn as Mr. B~'s child. You have not indicated that full-time attendance is an issue.
According to the Colorado Department of Education website, the V.I.L.A.S. School is in the V.I.L.A.S. RE-5 School District, which is a school district comprised of only on-line schools that is accredited by the state of Colorado. See http://www.cde. state.co.us/cdeunified/NCLBProfiles0405/ SchlList.asp?DistCode=0260.
The Social Security Act (Act) provides for the payment of CIB to certain unmarried children of individuals who are deceased or who are entitled to old-age or disability insurance benefits. See 42 U.S.C. § 402(d). A child over the age of 18 can continue to receive benefits if the child is a full-time elementary or secondary school student. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 402(d)(1), 402(d)(7)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(5). "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 Secretary (in accordance with regulations prescribed by him) in light of the standards and practices involved." 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(7)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.367,. An "elementary or secondary school" is a school that 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); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a).
In defining the term elementary or secondary school, Agency policy "had been in keeping with the traditional definition of [elementary or secondary school]." See 61 Fed.Reg. 38361 (July 24, 1996). In 1996, however, the definition changed, and the Agency acknowledged that other types of educational opportunities could qualify as elementary and secondary schools under the Act; i.e., independent study programs and home schools. See id.; POMS RS 00205.285.A; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.367. According to the Agency definition, independent study programs "involve instruction and supervision by a teacher employed by the school (or local school district) [and] include written agreements for each independent study student specifying, among other things, the duration of the agreement and a statement of the number of course credits to be earned by the pupil upon completion. The effect of the written agreement is to extend the educational setting beyond the traditional classroom." 61 Fed.Reg. 38362 (July 24, 1996). POMS defines "[i]ndependent study," also known as "off-campus" or "alternative school," as a method of alternative secondary education used in some states. Independent study programs are run by local education agencies (LEA), such as high schools or school districts, in accordance with specific State law requirements, and the credits earned count toward high school graduation. The programs involve periodic teacher contact, direction, and testing on campus, with the student making academic progress generally through independent study at home. POMS RS 00205.285.A.
The description of "on-line programs" under Colorado law, see Colo. Rev. Stat. § 22-33-104.6 (2005), meets the Agency's definition of independent study programs. An authorized on-line program provides a sequential program of instruction for the education of a child who resides in Colorado through services accessible on the World Wide Web and monitored by a district coordinator and a site coordinator. See id. § 22-33-104.6(2)(b). Colorado on-line programs are subject to the following criteria: (a) students must be subject to compulsory school attendance; (b) the program should have regular assessments of student progress; (c) the program must have an appropriate curriculum; (d) all students must be tested in the same manner as other students in the state; (e) the program must have a mentoring program and a process for identifying alternatives for students who are not making progress; (f) the program must maintain student records; and (g) all students must be a resident of the state and meet the guidelines for attendance at the school. See id. § 22-33-104.6(3). The materials you provided reflect that the V.I.L.A.S. School meets each of these criterion. Moreover, the V.I.L.A.S. School presumably meets these criteria because it is part of an accredited school district.
Since the V.I.L.A.S. School is a school in an accredited school district, we conclude that it qualifies under the Act as an independent study program that provides secondary education under state law.
Deana R. E~L~
Regional Chief Counsel
Allan D. B~
Assistant Regional Counsel