You asked whether an 18-year old student who is enrolled in the Oregon Connections
Academy, an internet-based study program, can qualify for student benefits under Title
II of the Social Security Act.
The student can qualify for student benefits under Title II of the Social Security
Act as he is attending an educational institution as defined by state law and is attending
SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE Benjamin V~ became entitled to surviving child’s insurance benefits effective February
2008. His benefits terminated in June 2009, when he turned 18. Benjamin attended the
Oregon Connections Academy for the 2008/2009 school year and intends to attend the
school for the 2009/2010 school year. He is expected to graduate in June 2011. On
June 5, 2009, Jerry W~, Executive Director of Oregon Connections Academy, stated that
Benjamin is enrolled as a full-time student at the school. According to a completed
form SSA-1372 (Student’s Statement Regarding School Attendance) completed on April
16, 2009, Benjamin is scheduled to attend school 30 hours per week.
Oregon Connections Academy is a full-time, online school for students, kindergarten
through the 12th grade. The school is a charter school and is sponsored by the Scio
School District in Oregon. Enrolled students are considered to be enrolled in an Oregon
public school. As with all charter schools in Oregon, students enrolled at the Oregon
Connections Academy are eligible to receive a high school diploma if all state requirements
are met. All students attending the Oregon Connections Academy are expected to meet
the Oregon law requirement to attend school fulltime. According to the school, a typical
day for a student is 5 to 7 hours in length.
Each student enrolled at the Oregon Connections Academy has an evaluation to determine
educational goals and needs. After this assessment, the student, parent, and a counselor
develop a personalized learning plan. Students interact with teachers through email,
the virtual classroom, and by telephone. Students have some flexibility as to when
and how they work. However, some classes are fixed and must be attended at specific
times. A parent, guardian, or other designee is a “learning coach.” Although a high
school student, like Benjamin, is expected to work independently, the learning coach
is required to supervise the student to ensure that assignments are completed and
to monitor progress. The learning coach is also responsible for logging in and recording
the student’s attendance.
A. Social Security program requirements for eligibility for student’s benefits.
There are two requirements for the receipt of student benefits for an individual who
is 18 years old, but has not attained age 19. First, the individual must be an elementary
or secondary school student at an educational institution. Second, the individual
must be attending school full-time. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1)(B). As set forth below,
the information available about Oregon Connections Academy establishes that Benjamin
is eligible for continuation of student’s benefits. He is attending a school that
meets the definition of an educational institution and is attending school full-time.
1. Attendance at an educational institution.
An individual is considered a student if he is attending an elementary or secondary
school as determined under the laws of the State or other jurisdiction in which it
is located. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a). In addition, participation in a home school program
or in an elementary or secondary independent study program in accordance with the
applicable State law qualifies as attendance in an elementary or secondary school.
20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)(1) & (2). Pursuant to the Program Operations Manual System
(POMS), public elementary, junior high schools, and high schools are educational institutions,
unless there is evidence to the contrary. POMS RS 00205.250(B)(1).
Under Oregon law, charter schools are public institutions. They are established by
a sponsor, which is either a school district or the State Board of Education. Or.
Rev. Stat. § 338.005. Once a charter is approved, the school must meet the requirements
of its charter, as well as any other applicable state law requirements. Although exempt
from some state law requirements governing public schools, charter schools must comply
with all federal requirements; the state wide assessment requirements for mathematics,
science, and English; all state requirements for academic content standards and instructions;
and all rules and statutes regarding requirements for instructional time during each
day. Or. Rev. Stat. § 338.115(1). The school district in which the charter school
is located must offer a high school diploma for students attending the charter school
if the student meets all requirements. Or. Rev. Stat. § 338.115(11).
Oregon Connections Academy is part of the Scio School District and is a charter school.
http://www.scio.k12.or.us/. Thus, it is a public secondary school and qualifies as an educational institution
in accordance with Oregon law. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367.
2. Full-time attendance.
In order to be entitled to student benefits, a student must attend elementary or secondary
school full-time. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(c). To be considered full-time attendance, the
student’s scheduled attendance must be at the rate of at least 20 hours per week,
unless the school does not have a 20-hour per week schedule and going to that school
is the only feasible alternative, or a medical condition prevents such attendance.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.367(c) (1) and (2). Similarly, a student is considered to be attending
school full-time if he is attending a day or evening non-correspondence course that
lasts at least 13 weeks and carries a subject load considered full-time for day students
under the institution’s standards and practices. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b). Generally,
a student is not considered to be attending school full-time based on correspondence
school courses even if the correspondence school meets the definition of an educational
institution. POMS RS 00205.330. Thus, to determine whether Benjamin is attending school full-time, we must determine
if Oregon Connections Academy should be considered a correspondence school.
A correspondence school is a school that teaches by mailing lessons and exercises
to the student, who returns the completed material for grading. POMS RS 00205.330. Oregon Connections Academy interacts with students primarily through the internet.
Students attend classes through the internet, and download course material and assignments
through the internet. In that respect, the method of receiving assignments is similar
to a correspondence school where the student receives assignments through the mail.
However, unlike a correspondence school, learning takes place in the virtual world.
There is ongoing and scheduled interaction between certified teachers and students
via email, the interactive classes on the web, or by telephone.
These differences are significant, as the instruction and interaction are similar
to instruction and interaction in independent study programs, which can qualify for
student benefits. POMS RS 00205.285. An independent study program is an alternative method of education that involves
“periodic teacher contact, direction, and testing on campus.” POMS RS 00205.285. Independent study programs are run by local education agencies in accordance with
state law. POMS RS 00205.285(B). Independent study programs allow students to earn credits that count towards
high school graduation. Id. Here, the Oregon Connections Academy meets all these requirements. As noted above,
there is ongoing interaction with certified teachers via the internet in addition
to telephone contact. Although the testing at the school does not occur on a physical
campus, it is done on the virtual campus via the internet. The school is part of a
state school district and students may obtain a high school diploma from the district.
Given these characteristics, Oregon Connections Academy is more like an independent
study program rather than a correspondence course.
Finally, Oregon Connections Academy, as with all charter schools, must comply with
state law requirements for fulltime attendance. According to the SSA-1372 form and
Mr. W~ of the Oregon Connections Academy, Benjamin is attending school fulltime and
is scheduled to attend school 30 hours per week. This satisfies the regulatory requirement
for full-time attendance. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367. Thus, Benjamin is a full-time student
and is eligible to receive benefits.
We recommend that you find that Benjamin’s attendance at Oregon Connections Academy
satisfies the requirements for eligibility for student benefits.