TN 4 (09-09)
PR 08105.053 Washington
A. PR 09-163 Eligibility for Student Benefits for Individuals Enrolled in Insight School of Washington and IQ Academy of Washington – REPLY
DATE: April 28, 2009
The Insight School of Washington, which is part of the Quillayute Valley School District, is a public school that provides alternative education in grades 9 through 12 in accordance with the law of Washington State. The iQ Academy Washington, which is part of the Evergreen School District, is a public school that provides alternative education for students in grades 7 through 12 in accordance with the law of Washington State. Both schools are educational institutions 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 18-year old students who are enrolled in Insight School of Washington and iQ Academy Washington, both internet-based study programs, can qualify for student benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. In addition, you asked what evidence is required to establish eligibility for students in such programs.
The students can qualify for student benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act as they are attending an educational institution as defined by state law and are attending school full-time. Further, as detailed below, in future cases we recommend that you obtain information to ascertain that an internet school complies with Washington state law requirements.
Insight School of Washington
Robin H~ became entitled to disability benefits effective March 1984. Her daughter, Kristen H~, became entitled to child’s benefits effective March 1991. In February 2009, Kristen’s benefits were terminated, due to her 18th birthday. On February 11, 2009, Kristen provided a completed SSA-1372, Student’s Statement Regarding School Attendance, indicating she was enrolled full-time at Insight School of Washington. She began attending Insight School in September 2007. Her current enrollment dates are September 8, 2008, through June 23, 2009, and she is expected to graduate in June 2009. She is scheduled to attend school 20 hours per week. Mickie F~, of Insight School of Washington, signed the form, certifying that the information was true and correct.
Christina A. B~ is the deemed child of deceased number holder Stephen J~. She became entitled to surviving child’s benefits in January 1995. Her benefits were terminated in August 2008, due to her 18th birthday. On February 25, 2009, she provided a completed SSA-1372, indicating she was enrolled full-time at Insight School of Washington. Her current enrollment dates are February 9, 2009 through June 23, 2009, and she is expected to graduate in February 2010. She is scheduled to attend school 30 hours per week. Ms. F~ signed the form, certifying that the information was true and correct.
Insight School is a full-time, online school for students in the 9th through 12th grades. The school is part of the Quillayute Valley School District. Enrolled students are considered to be enrolled in the Quillayute Valley School District and are eligible to receive a high school diploma from the district if all requirements are met, including passing the Washington Assessment of Student Learning test (WASL). The school provides the students with a laptop computer and a printer. Insight School of Washington, http://www.insightwa.net/inside_insight.asp (last visited April 2, 2009).
According to the information provided by Ms. H~, Insight School operates as an alternative learning experience under Washington law. Each student has an individual written learning plan. Students must login to classes a minimum of 25 hours per week. Attendance is reported as “days since last login.” Students are also required to have weekly contact with a certificated staff member for purposes of instruction, review of assignments, reporting of student progress, or other learning activities. This communication can occur through email, telephone, or “interactive whiteboard.” Insight School of Washington, http://www.insightwa.net/program_instruction.asp (last visited April 2, 2009). In addition, students must participate in monthly two-way telephone communication with a mentor.
iQ Academy Washington
Harvey B~ became entitled to retirement benefits effective June 2004. His daughter, Sarah B~, became entitled to child’s benefits at the same time. Sarah turned 18 years old in September 2008, but continued to receive student’s benefits through January 2009, as she was attending Best High School. Her benefits terminated effective February 2009. In March 2009, Sarah submitted a completed SSA-1372, indicating she was enrolled full-time at iQ Academy Washington. She began attending iQ Academy Washington in January 2009 and is expected to graduate in June 2009. She is scheduled to attend school “20+” hours each week. A program manager (signature illegible) from iQ Academy Washington signed the form, certifying that the information provided by was true and correct.
iQ Academy Washington is a full-time, online school for students in the 7th through 12th grades. The school is part of the Evergreen School District. Enrolled students are considered to be enrolled in the Evergreen School District and are eligible to receive a high school diploma from the district if all requirements are met, including passing the WASL. Students have the option of using their own computers or a computer provided by the school. iQ Academy Washington, http://www.iqacademywa.com/resources/faqs.php (last visited April 2, 2009).
According to Carrie R~, program director at iQ Academy Washington, the school operates as an alternative learning experience under Washington law. Each student has an individual written learning plan. Students are expected to spend 25 to 30 hours per week if they are attending school full-time. Attendance is monitored by tracking students’ logins. Classes are taught by certified teachers through an interactive online web conference. Students also have contact with their teachers by either email or telephone. iQ Academy Washington, http://www.iqacademywa.com/program/index.php (last visited April 2, 2009).
A. Social Security program requirements for eligibility for student’s benefits.
There are two requirements to receive 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 provided about Insight Academy and iQ Academy Washington establishes that Kristen H~, Christina B~, and Sarah B~ are eligible for continuation of student’s benefits. The students are attending schools that meet the definition of an educational institution and are 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 the Basic Education Act in Washington, each school district “shall make available” to students “at least a district wide annual average total instructional hour offering of one thousand hours.” Wash. Rev. Code § 28A.150.220(1)(a). The state board of education is authorized to define “alternatives to classroom instruction” for students enrolled in “alternative learning experiences.” Wash. Rev. Code § 28A.150.220(1)(b). Washington allows a school district to count as a course of study any digital and/or on-line curricula that is delivered over the internet or other electronic means. Wash. Admin. Code § 392-121-192(1).
In order to be considered a course of study, the alternative learning experience must meet eight regulatory requirements: (1) the school district board must adopt policies for each program that meet the regulatory requirements; (2) the program must be accessible to all students, including those with disabilities; (3) the program must require written student learning plans for each student; (4) the school district must report enrollment using the regulatory definitions of full-time equivalent student; (5) there must be evaluation of student performance according to a prescribed process and schedule; (6) the school district must periodically engage in self-evaluation of the learning experiences; (7) the school district must report annually to the superintendent of public instruction on the types of programs and course offerings; and (8) the school district must maintain appropriate written documentation for audit purposes. Id. If these requirements are met, the school district may count students enrolled in these programs in its request for funding from the state.
Insight School and iQ Academy Washington both state that they are operating as alternative learning experiences in accordance with Washington law. Although we did not have information to substantiate the schools’ claims, there is evidence that their claims can be accepted. For example, both schools are part of Washington school districts. Both schools require individual written learning plans, have attendance policies that can be used to report enrollment, and evaluate student performance according to a prescribed process and schedule. There does not appear to be any impediments to accessibility to the school. We assume for the purposes of this opinion that the school districts have adopted written policies, report enrollment, engage in self-evaluation, send necessary reports, and maintain documentation for audit purposes, as the school districts would not receive state funding if they did not comply with all regulatory requirements. Thus, Insight School and iQ Academy Washington are public secondary schools and qualify as an educational institution in accordance with Washington 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 the students are attending school full-time, we must determine if these schools should be considered correspondence schools.
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. Insight School and iQ Academy Washington both involve interactions through the internet. In both programs, the students can download assignments and return them via 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 at Insight School and iQ Academy Washington takes place in the virtual world. There is ongoing and scheduled interaction between certified teachers and students via email, the web, or 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. Both schools meet all these requirements. As noted above, there is ongoing interaction with certified teachers via the internet in addition to telephone contact at both schools. Although the testing at the schools does not occur on a physical campus, it is done on the virtual campus via the internet. Insight School and iQ Academy Washington are run by school districts and students may obtain a high school diploma from the school districts. Given these characteristics, Insight School and iQ Academy Washington are more like an independent study program than a correspondence course.
Finally, according to the SSA-1372 forms completed by the students, Insight School and iQ Academy Washington have verified that the students are participating in the online instruction for at least 20 hours per week. This satisfies the regulatory requirement for full-time attendance. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367. Thus, Kristen H~, Christina B~, and Sarah B~ are full-time students and are eligible to receive benefits until they turn 19, providing that they maintain their full-time attendance.
B. Evidence needed to establish eligibility for student benefits for internet study programs
For future cases arising in the State of Washington, we recommend that you obtain information to determine whether the internet school is in operating in compliance with Wash. Admin. Code § 392-121-192(1), as set forth above. Further, you should obtain evidence about the method and frequency of contact between teachers and students, whether the school is part of a local school district, and whether the students can earn credits that would count for obtaining a high school graduation in order to evaluate whether the internet school is operating similarly to an independent study program. However, because seemingly insignificant changes in the facts may lead to a different outcome, we advise that you continue to seek a legal opinion from OGC until the POMS provide specific guidance.
We recommend that you find that attendance of Kristen H~, Christina B~, and Sarah B~, at Insight School and iQ Academy Washington satisfy the requirements for eligibility for student benefits.