TN 6 (09-09)
PR 08105.041 Oregon
A. PR 09-164 Eligibility for Student Benefits for Individual Enrolled in Oregon Connections Academy – REPLY
DATE: August 7, 2009
The Oregon Connections Academy (OCA) is a charter school and part of the Scio School District. It is a public school that is similar to an independent study program, and it provides elementary and secondary education in accordance with Oregon law. OCA is, therefore, 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 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 school full-time.
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.