TN 29 (11-12)

PR 08205.006 California

A. PR 13-002 Golden Valley Virtual Charter School

DATE: September 28, 2012

1. SYLLABUS

Golden Valley Virtual Charter School (GVVCS) is a public, online charter school that is part of the Mesa Union School District. It is open to students in grades 6 to 12 in Ventura, Kern, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties. It qualifies as educational institution under federal law, and its internet-based (online) program provides an acceptable form of approved independent study under California law. The agency should determine whether the student at issue meets the remaining attendance and eligibility requirements for continued Auxiliary Child Benefits after age 18.

2. OPINION

QUESTION

You asked whether Golden Valley Virtual Charter School (GVVCS), an online school, is an educational institution for purposes of eligibility for Auxiliary Child Benefits after age 18.

SHORT ANSWER

Yes. GVVCS qualifies as an educational institution under federal law, and its internet-based (online) program provides an acceptable form of approved independent study under California law.

BACKGROUND

The State of California recognizes GVVCS as a California public charter school that is part of the Mesa Union School District. GVVCS is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Schools. GVVC S is a free, online public school open to students in grades 6 to 12 in Ventura, Kern, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara counties; the school’s Charter is available on its website. See http://www.goldenvcs.org/Default.aspx?alias=www.goldenvcs.org/gvvcs (last visited Sept. 25, 2012).

In response to an agency questionnaire, Meg, Director of Education at GVVCS, informed the agency that the school tracks the time a student spends online and keeps attendance records. GVVCS offers all required and elective courses for middle and high school students. Students must log-in online and complete schoolwork each school day. Instruction is both self-paced and self-directed. Meg confirmed the information on the school website that GVVCS provides each student with interactive access to state-credentialed teachers. See id.

GVVCS has a detailed Independent Study Policy that states the school’s compliance with California’s state regulations on independent study and explains how the credentialed teachers will closely monitor and review students’ work. See http://www.goldenvcs.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=oa9fWuoejRA%3d&tabid=184. The Independent Study Policy also sets out attendance and progress requirements for continued participation in the program, among them that “Continual failure to meet charter guidelines with regards to attendance or progress may be grounds for ending the student’s independent study.” See id.

ANALYSIS

To be eligible for child’s insurance benefits between the ages of 18 and 19, the child must be in full-time attendance (FTA) at an educational institution (EI) that provides elementary or secondary courses. Social Security Act § 202(d)(1)(B), 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1)(B); 20 C.F.R. § 404.367; Program Operations Manual System (POMS) RS 00205.001(A). A student will be considered enrolled in an EI if he or she participates in an independent study program acceptable under the state’s educational statutes. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)(2); POMS RS 00205.250(B)(5); RS 00205.285(C)(2). With limited exceptions, FTA is defined as 20 hours per week. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(c). For an independent study school, “the number of hours spent in school attendance are determined by combining the number of hours of attendance at a school facility with the agreed upon number of hours spent in independent study.” Id.

In California, a “school district or county office of education may offer independent study to meet the educational needs of pupils” within certain guidelines. Cal. Educ. Code § 51745(a). School districts can operate independent study in a number of ways, such as a program within a school or as a stand-alone alternative school. See Independent Study Operations Manual at 1-4, available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/eo/is/isoperationsmanual.asp (last visited Sept. 24, 2012). Every student engaged in independent study must be enrolled in a specified school of a school district or county Office of Education. Cal. Educ. Code § 51747.5(a).

Pursuant to California regulations, an independent study program must be “substantially equivalent in quality and in quantity to classroom instruction,” provide “the same access to existing services and resources” as the other students in the district receive, and confer “equality of rights and privileges” with the students who choose to continue in the regular school program.” See 5 Cal. Code Regs. § 11701.5. Likewise, the curriculum and methods of study must be consistent with the policies and procedures of the school district. See 5 Cal. Code Regs. § 11702(b). These requirements are generally consistent with the requirements in POMS RS 00205.200(A) and RS 00205.285 that an independent study program be part of an educational institution authorized by the State, and permit a student to accrue credits towards graduation.

The California Department of Education has an official website that enables searches for all schools in the state and shows each school’s status. See http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/sd/ (last visited Sept. 24, 2012). On that website, GVVCS is listed as “active,” which indicates that the information has been reviewed for accuracy and approved by personnel of the California Department of Education. See Golden Valley Virtual Charter – School Directory Details at http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/sd/details.asp?cds=56724700120618&public=Y & http://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/si/ds/opuscdsfaqs.asp (last visited Sept. 24, 2012). The agency generally may rely on this official website of the California Department of Education to determine if a public school exclusively offering independent study is an educational institution under POMS RS 00205.200 and RS 00205.285. If the status of the school is listed as “active,” the school is presumed to be an educational institution under the Act and regulations.

Based on the foregoing and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, GVVCS is a qualified educational institution. The California Department of Education website indicates that this school has active status, and that it is a part of the Mesa Union Elementary District. See Golden Valley Virtual Charter – School Directory Details at http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/sd/details.asp?cds=56724700120618&public=Y (last visited Sept. 24, 2012).

CONCLUSION

GVVCS, recognized by the state as a public charter school, qualifies as an educational institution under 20 C.F.R. § 404.367 and POMS RS 00205.285. The agency should determine whether the student at issue meets the remaining attendance and eligibility requirements for continued Auxiliary Child Benefits.

B. PR 12-115 Capistrano Connections Academy: Heidi

DATE: June 29, 2012

1. SYLLABUS

Capistrano Connections Academy (CapoCA) is an independent-study, non-classroom-based online public charter school that serves students in grades K–12 in several California counties (i.e. Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino).

It qualifies as educational institution under federal law, and its internet-based (online) program provides an acceptable form of approved distance study under California law. The student must also meet Federal standards for full-time attendance and all other requirements for the payment of benefits.

2. OPINION

QUESTION

Whether Heidi’s attendance at Capistrano Connections Academy met agency standards for full time attendance required for Auxiliary Child Benefits after age 18.

SHORT ANSWER

Yes. Capistrano Connections Academy qualifies as educational institution under federal law, and its internet-based (online) program provides an acceptable form of approved distance study under California law.

BACKGROUND

Heidi, a recipient of child’s insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, attended classes at Capistrano Connections Academy (CapoCA) until June 17, 2011. On Form SSA-1372-BK, Heidi indicated that she attended school 40 hours each week. P~, Executive Administrative Support at CapoCA, certified under penalty of perjury that Heidi correctly reported her school attendance, and that her program would last at least 13 weeks.

In response to follow-up questions, P~ informed the agency that the school tracks the time a student spends online and keeps attendance records. Students follow the curriculum with the same requirements and options as a public school. All lessons are conducted live, with required online attendance. Students participate in an interactive online “classroom” with the teacher and other online students. Additional information submitted indicates that students at CapoCA are required to pass the California State High School Exit Exam in math and English in order to graduate, and that Heidi did so.

The State of California recognizes CapoCA as a California public charter school that is part of the Capistrano Unified School District. CapoCA is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Schools. The website for the school states that it is a free online public school open to K-12 students in Los Angeles, Orange Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. See http://www.connectionsacademy.com/california-southern-capistrano-school/home.aspx.

ANALYSIS

To be eligible for child’s insurance benefits between the ages of 18 and 19, the child must be in full-time attendance (FTA) at an educational institution (EI) that provides elementary or secondary courses. Social Security Act § 202(d)(1)(B), 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1)(B); 20 C.F.R. § 404.367; Program Operations Manual System (POMS) RS 00205.001(A). A student will be considered enrolled in an EI if he or she participates in an independent study program acceptable under the state’s educational statutes. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)(2); POMS RS 00205.250(B)(5); RS 00205.285(C)(2). With limited exceptions, FTA is defined as 20 hours per week. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(c). For an independent study school, “the number of hours spent in school attendance are determined by combining the number of hours of attendance at a school facility with the agreed upon number of hours spent in independent study.” Id.

In California, a “school district or county office of education may offer independent study to meet the educational needs of pupils” within certain guidelines. Cal. Educ. Code § 51745(a). School districts can operate independent study in a number of ways, such as a program within a school or as a stand-alone alternative school. See Independent Study Operations Manual at 1-4, available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/eo/is/isoperationsmanual.asp (last visited June 19, 2012). Every student engaged in independent study must be enrolled in a specified school of a school district or county Office of Education. Cal. Educ. Code § 51747.5(a). These requirements are generally consistent with the requirements in POMS RS 00205.200(A) and RS 00205.285 that an independent study program be part of an educational institution authorized by the State, and permitting a student to accrue credits towards graduation.

The California Department of Education has an official website which enables searches for all schools in the state and shows each school’s status. See http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/sd/ (last visited June 19, 2012). On that website, CapoCA is listed as “active,” which indicates that the information has been reviewed for accuracy and approved by personnel of the California Department of Education. See Capistrano Connections Academy Charter summary at http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/sd/details.asp?cds=30664640106765&public=Y & http://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/si/ds/opuscdsfaqs.asp (last visited June 29, 2012). The agency generally may rely on this official website of the California Department of Education to determine if a public school exclusively offering independent study is an educational institution under POMS RS 00205.200 and RS 00205.285. If the status of the school is listed as “active,” the school is presumed to be an educational institution under the Act and regulations.

Based on the foregoing and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, CapoCA is a qualified educational institution. The California Department of Education website indicates that this school has active status. Furthermore, the Capistrano Unified School District website acknowledges that CapoCA is one of its charter schools. See Capistrano Unified School District: Charter Schools at http://capousd.ca.schoolloop.com/cms/page_view?d=x&piid=&vpid=1265672486053 (last visited June 29, 2012).

CONCLUSION

CapoCA, recognized by the state as a public charter school, qualifies as an educational institution under 20 C.F.R. § 404.367 and POMS RS 00205.285. Assuming Heidi attended CapoCA according to her reported schedule, she met the requirements for full-time attendance at a qualified independent study program.

C. PR 12-056 – Insight Virtual School: Alfred

DATE: February 14, 2012

1. SYLLABUS

The Los Angeles Online High School – Insight School, or Insight Virtual School is a public, online charter school. It qualifies as educational institution under federal law, and its internet-based (online) program provides an acceptable form of approved distance study under California law. The student must also meet Federal standards for full-time attendance and all other requirements for the payment of benefits.

2. OPINION

QUESTION

Whether Alfred’s attendance at the Insight Virtual School meets agency standards for full time attendance required for Auxiliary Child Benefits after age 18.

SHORT ANSWER

Yes. The Los Angeles Online High School – Insight School, or Insight Virtual School, qualifies as educational institution under federal law, and its internet-based (online) program provides an acceptable form of approved distance study under California law. Generally, the California Department of Education provides information on its website indicating whether an independent study school is in active compliance with state education requirements, as here with respect to the Insight School.

BACKGROUND

Alfred (Claimant), a recipient of child’s insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, attends classes at Los Angeles Online High School – Insight School (Insight School). Claimant is in the 10th grade and does not attend regular school due to his disability, a poor immune system. Claimant states that he is online 6 hours a day, in a “virtual-real time interactive classroom.”

In response to SSA’s questions, a school representative stated that Insight School students are online six to eight hours per day, five days a week. Students interact with the teacher for some of the time and at other times engage in individual study. The teachers monitor the student to see if he is there. The course of study results in the student receiving a California high school diploma.

The State of California recognizes the Insight School as a California public charter school. It is a part of the Antelope Valley Union High School District. The Insight School is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Schools.

ANALYSIS

To be eligible for child’s insurance benefits between the ages of 18 and 19, the child must be in full-time attendance (FTA) at an educational institution (EI) that provides elementary or secondary courses. Social Security Act § 202(d)(1)(B), 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1)(B); 20 C.F.R. § 404.367; Program Operations Manual System (POMS) RS 00205.001(A). A student will be considered enrolled in an EI if he or she participates in an independent study program acceptable under the state’s educational statutes. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)(2); POMS RS 00205.250(B)(5); RS 00205.285(C)(2). With limited exceptions, FTA is defined as 20 hours per week. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(c). For an independent study school, “the number of hours spent in school attendance are determined by combining the number of hours of attendance at a school facility with the agreed upon number of hours spent in independent study.” Id.

In California, a “school district or county office of education may offer independent study to meet the educational needs of pupils” within certain guidelines. Cal. Educ. Code § 51745(a). School districts can operate independent study in a number of ways, such as a program within a school or as a stand-alone alternative school. See Independent Study Operations Manual at 1-4, available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/eo/is/isoperationsmanual.asp (last visited Feb. 14, 2012). Every student engaged in independent study must be enrolled in a specified school that is part of a school district or overseen by a county Office of Education. Cal. Educ. Code § 51747.5(a). These requirements are generally consistent with the requirements in POMS RS 00205.200(A) and RS 00205.285 that an independent study program be part of an educational institution authorized by the State, and permitting a student to accrue credits towards graduation.

The California Department of Education has an official website on which a search can be made for schools in the state, available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/sd/ (last visited Feb. 6, 2012). The agency generally may rely on this official website of the California Department of Education to determine if a public school exclusively offering independent study is an educational institution under POMS RS 00205.200 and RS 00205.285. If the status of the school is listed as “active,” the school may be considered an educational institution under the Act and regulations. The Insight School, is listed as “active.” See Los Angeles Online High School summary at http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/sd/details.asp?cds=19642460115337&public=Y (last visited Feb. 6, 2012).

Based on the foregoing and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the Insight School is a qualified educational institution. The California Department of Education website indicates that this school has active status. Antelope Valley Union High web site acknowledges that the Insight School is one of its charter schools. See Antelope Valley Union High School District: Other: Charter Schools at http://www.avdistrict.org/charterschools (last visited Feb. 14, 2012). Furthermore, Insight School personnel confirmed that the Claimant’s course of study will lead to a California high school diploma, which also indicates that the school offers a course of study in compliance with state education laws.

CONCLUSION

The Insight School, recognized by the state as a public charter school, qualifies as an educational institution under 20 C.F.R. § 404.367 and POMS RS 00205.285. Assuming Alfred attended the Insight School according to his reported schedule, he met the requirements for full-time attendance in a qualified independent study program.

D. PR 11-084 SSI – Michigan - Is MUST High School (an Internet School) an Educational Institution? Christopher , SSN~ – REPLY

DATE: April 13, 2011

1. SYLLABUS

At the time the regional attorney reviewed MUST University to determine if it is an educational institution for SSA purposes, SSA was unable to determine the state in which the online school is located. To be an EI for SSA purposes, a school must provide elementary or secondary education under the law of the state or other jurisdiction in which it is located. SSA was unable to determine MUST University’s exact whereabouts and is, therefore, unable to determine which state law applies. For this reason, MUST University is not an EI for SSA purposes.

MUST University may be located in California; however, if that is the case, it is not organized and functioning in a manner consistent with California law. Although California law recognizes online public schools as EIs, either as alternative schools of choice or charter schools, MUST High School does not profess to be a public school. To be a private school recognized by California state law, one of the requirements is that the school be on a list that the Superintendent of Public Instruction maintains. The California Department of Education’s school directory does not recognize MUST High School.

The adjudicator should follow the instructions in RS 00205.295 and in GN 01010.815 to obtain a legal precedent opinion if a student alleges full-time attendance at an online school in California.

2. OPINION

You have asked whether MUST High School can be considered an educational institution for an 18-year-old Michigan resident (Claimant) for purposes of receipt of student benefits.   Particularly, you have asked whether MUST University is an educational institution pursuant to Michigan State law. Because we were unable to determine in what state the internet high school is located, we could not determine whether MUST High school is an educational institution under Michigan State law or the law of any other state. It appears unlikely that the school would be an educational institution under any state law.  In any event, we do not need to reach the issue in this case because the school failed to verify the Claimant’s status as a full-time student in a manner acceptable to SSA.   

BACKGROUND

The Claimant, Christopher, applied for students benefits. With his application, the Claimant submitted an SSA-1372-BK form stating that he had been attending MUST High School since November 4, 2009, and that he was not sure when his school year would end.  However, in the margin of the form, he indicated an end date of May 30, 2011. He stated that he was scheduled to attend MUST High school 40 hours a week.  The SSA 1372-BK form was incomplete because it was not signed by a school official who would certify as to the Claimant’s attendance at the school. You have indicated that the school refuses to sign any documentation.

In lieu of submitting a signed verification under the SSA 1372-BK, Claimant submitted an online printout from MUST High School which purports to constitute the school’s official validation of Claimant’s enrollment. The printout invites the reader to further verify the Claimant’s enrollment by logging onto an e-mail address or by calling the telephone number assigned to the school.  The Claimant also submitted a student identification card indicating that it was issued on February 20, 2001, and was valid until March 4, 2011. 

DISCUSSION

The Social Security Act specifies that full-time attendance at an educational institution is a prerequisite to receiving child’s insurance benefits. 42 U.S.C. 402(d).  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. 42 U.S.C. 402(d)(7)(A); see also 20 C.F.R. 404.367. The Act further provides that an “elementary or secondary school” is “a school which provides elementary or secondary education, respectively, as determined under the law of the State or other jurisdiction in which it is located.” 42 U.S.C. 402(d)(7)(C)(i); see also 20 C.F.R. 404.367(a).   

The POMS defines an online school as one that offers Internet-based courses to students. POMS RS 00205.295. A child attending an online school may be a full-time student if:  the student meets the standards for full-time attendance as defined in RS 00205.300, and the online school is consistent with the law of the state in which the online school is located. Id. 

Claimant Has Not Verified Full-Time Attendance

A student is in FTA if he is attending a secondary level school (an educational institution (EI)) as defined in RS 00205.200 and is meeting both the state and federal standards for FTA.  SSA considers the state requirements met if the school considers the student to be full-time based on the school’s standards and practices for day students. To meet federal standards, a 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. POMS RS 00205.300.

Claimant indicated in this application that he attends an online high school for forty hours per week, and, last year, he attended this school only eight hours per week. However, as you have indicated, MUST High School refused to sign the Certification by School Official by the SSA 1372-BK which would verify this attendance.  According to POMS RS 00205.295 which governs Online Schools, the fact that the school was unable or unwilling to certify the Claimant’s attendance is a sufficient reason to deny the claim. See POMS RS 00205.295(F).  

We have considered whether Claimant’s submission of an online printout from MUST High School which purports to constitute the school’s official validation of his enrollment and the Claimant’s school identification card are sufficient to verify FTA.  Although POMS RS 00205.350 does allow for a school to verify FTA in ways other than signing the Form SSA-1372, the information provided by Claimant does not appear to meet these alternative requirements.  For example, the POMS allows for a statement from the school on its own form or letterhead if it gives the same information as the SSA 1372 or other types of evidence if worked out by agreement with a particular school and the Assistant Regional Commissioner, Management Operations and Support (ARC-MOS). POMS RS 00205.350(B). However, the evidence submitted by the Claimant does not satisfy these requirements.  Specifically, the document gives no information about the number of hours the Claimant is scheduled to attend the school.   

In any event, as discussed below, even if the Claimant could verify his full-time attendance at MUST High School, we have determined that MUST is not likely to be considered an educational institution. 

We Could Not Verify That MUST High School Is An Educational Institution

You have asked whether MUST High School is an educational institution under Michigan law. The POMS defines an educational institution as a school which provides elementary or secondary education as determined under the law of the state or other jurisdiction in which it is located. POMS RS 00205.200.  The main problem in evaluating whether MUST High School is an Educational Institution (EI) is that its exact whereabouts could not be verified. Therefore, we were unable to determine which state law would apply. 

It is possible that the school may be located in California.  MUST High School does not, on its website, list its location or contact information.  The undersigned called the telephone number assigned to MUST and spoke informally with a person who identified himself as Todd , Admissions Counselor. He stated that the school was “global” but that one of its main offices was in California. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), MUST University, also known as MUST High School, has provided its contact information as his. .  However, the BBB has noted that mail sent to that address was returned as undeliverable. In processing fourteen complaints against MUST, the BBB has indicated that the company could not be located and has assigned a rating of “F” to the school.  See BBB, Reliability Report, found at:  http://www.bbb.org/greater-san-francisco/business-reviews/schools-academic-special-education/must-university-in-san-francisco-ca-354232 (last visited 4/6/11). We have attached a print-out of this information.

 If that is the case, MUST is not a school which is organized and functioning in a way which is consistent with the laws of the State of California. California recognizes online public schools as educational institutions, either as alternative schools of choice or charter schools.  See Survey of Online Schooling Requirements For the States and Protectorates in Region IX (Feb. 8, 2010). However, MUST High School does not purport to be a public school, and the Claimant is not attending MUST as a California public school since he lives in Michigan. 

We considered whether MUST High School is a private school recognized by the State of California. In order to be a private school recognized by the State of California, the school must be in English, have proper courses and instructors, keep track of attendance for each student, and have filed an affidavit or statement required by California State law, and then would be included on a list maintained by the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Cal. Educ. Code 33190. However, The California Department of Education’s school directory, which includes public schools, private schools, nonpublic nonsectarian schools, school districts and county offices of education does not recognize MUST High School in a state-wide search. See California Department of Education, California School Directory, http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/sd/ .

CONCLUSION

In sum, the Claimant cannot be considered a full-time student of MUST High School because the school has failed to verify his status in a manner acceptable to SSA.  In any event, it is highly unlikely that MUST High School would be considered an educational institution. .   

  

Donna L. Calvert
Regional Chief Counsel, Region V

By_________

Anne Madden
Assistant Regional Counsel


To Link to this section - Use this URL:
http://policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/1508205006
PR 08205.006 - California - 11/21/2012
Batch run: 11/23/2012
Rev:11/21/2012