TN 25 (04-12)

PR 08205.021 Louisiana

A. PR 12-081 Louisiana Law – State Law Requirements for an Online Educational Institution – Louisiana Connections Academy (NH Woodie , SSN~ , Cheyenne, Student)

DATE: March 20, 2012

1. SYLLABUS

Louisiana Connections Academy is an accredited public, online charter school that serves students from kindergarten through 12th grade. The Academy meets Louisiana law requirements for a secondary school, therefore it is an educational institution (EI) for SSA purposes. The student must also meet Federal standards for full-time attendance and all other requirements for the payment of benefits.

2. OPINION

This memorandum is in response to your resubmitted request for an updated legal opinion on whether Louisiana Connections Academy meets the requirements of the Social Security Act (Act) as an educational institution and whether a student attending an Internet-based school qualifies as a full-time student of a secondary school under Louisiana law. Based on the evidence submitted, it remains our opinion that Louisiana Connections Academy (the Academy) qualifies under the Act as an educational institution. Based on the new evidence submitted, it is also our opinion that the student, Cheyenne, has provided sufficient documentation to show that she is a full-time student under the Act. Thus, we believe that Cheyenne is now eligible to continue to receive child’s insurance benefits on the numberholder’s account. 1

BACKGROUND

The facts you presented indicate that Cheyenne became entitled to child’s insurance benefits in June 2007. The Social Security Administration (agency) terminated her benefits in October 2011, when Cheyenne turned eighteen, because she did not attend a state-accredited school in Louisiana. In response, Cheyenne submitted Form 1372, Student’s Statement Regarding School Attendance, purportedly documenting her full-time enrollment (20 or more hours per week) in the Academy) from August 15, 2011, through May 30, 2012. No school official certified Cheyenne’s attendance at the Academy, on Form 1372 or otherwise, as the agency requires. On February 27, 2011, in support of your request for an updated opinion, you provided a copy of the Certification by School Official for Form 1372, dated August 8, 2011. The certification, signed by Katrina, a school counselor, affirms Cheyenne’s factual allegations regarding her school attendance and indicates that her course of study is at least thirteen weeks in duration.

The Academy is a public, online charter school that the State of Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) accredited in August 2011. All teachers the Academy employs are certified. The Academy’s website (www.connectionsacademy.com/louisiana-school/) discloses that the institution educates students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Students enrolled at the Academy log onto the school’s website from home to verify attendance and complete course work for approximately six hours each day. The Academy provides the students with a computer and books, and students work at their own pace. The teachers deliver classroom instruction via online virtual classrooms, Skype, 2 online tutorials, and streaming video. The students interact with the teachers via email, Skype, or during online virtual classroom sessions. Louisiana includes the Academy students in the State’s count of full-time students. The students at the Academy must pass the same standardized tests as students that attend Louisiana’s traditional public schools.

DISCUSSION

The Act provides for the payment of child’s insurance benefits to certain applicants over the age of 18 who are full-time elementary or secondary school (educational institution) students. 3 See 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1)(B), (d)(7)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(5); Program Operations Manual System (POMS) RS 00205.001(A). Under the Act, an educational institution is a school that provides elementary or secondary education, as the law of the state or other jurisdiction in which the school is located determines. See 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(7)(C)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a); POMS RS 00205.300.

Under the regulations, in order for a child to be eligible for child’s insurance benefits, she must attend a school that provides elementary or secondary education. 4 See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a). The agency generally presumes that a public secondary school is an educational institution. See POMS RS 00205.200.

Participation in the following programs also meets the requirements of 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a): 1) a student is instructed in secondary education at home in accordance with the home school law of the State or other jurisdiction in which she resides; 5 or 2) a student is in an independent study secondary education program in accordance with the law of the State or other jurisdiction in which the student resides and that is administered by the local school or school district/jurisdiction. 6 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)(1), (2). Accordingly, a student may meet the requirements set out by 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a) if either the school itself is deemed an educational institution in the state in which it is located or the student’s curriculum qualifies under the law of the state in which the student resides.

In addition to meeting the requirements of 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a), the student must be in full-time attendance in a day or evening noncorrespondence course of at least 13 weeks duration and carry a subject load that is considered full-time for day students under the institution’s standards and practices. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b). If the student is enrolled in the home schooling program discussed in 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)(1), the student must be carrying a subject load which is considered full-time for day students under standards and practices set by the state in which she resides. Id. § 404.367(b). Finally, the student’s scheduled attendance must be at least 20 hours per week, unless the school attended does not schedule at least 20 hours per week and going to that particular school is the student’s only reasonable alternative or the student’s medical condition prevents her from having scheduled attendance of at least 20 hours per week. Id. § 404.367(c)(1), (2); see also POMS RS 00205.295F1 (setting forth certification requirements).

A full-time student’s eligibility may continue during a period of nonattendance if 1) the period of nonattendance is 4 consecutive months or less; 2) the student shows that she intended to resume her studies as a full-time student at the end of the period or at the end of the period she was a full-time student; and 3) the period of nonattendance is not due to the student’s expulsion or suspension from school. 20 C.F.R. § 404.368.

The Academy Qualifies as an Educational Institution Under Louisiana Law.

First, we must determine whether the Academy qualifies as an educational institution under Louisiana law. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a). The Academy is an accredited, public school that serves students from kindergarten through the 12th grade. See id. The agency generally presumes that a public secondary school is an educational institution. See POMS RS 00205.200. Here, we have no reason not to apply this general presumption. Additionally, the Academy is a Type 2, public charter school. Louisiana law defines a “Type 2” school as a “new school or preexisting public school converted and operated as the result of and pursuant to a charter between the nonprofit corporation created to operate the school and the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.” See La. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 17, § 3973(b)(ii). In Louisiana, all public charter schools, such as the Academy, are subject to the same or similar educational requirements as traditional public schools, in terms of compulsory attendance and academic competency. See id. § 3996(B), (E). Thus, we conclude that because the Academy provides secondary education in a manner that complies with Louisiana law, it is an educational institution under 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a).

The Evidence Shows That Cheyenne Attends the Academy as a Full-Time Student.

Second, we must ascertain whether Cheyenne attends the Academy on a full-time basis. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b)-(c). To be considered a full-time student, Cheyenne must, among other factors, attend a noncorrespondence course of at least 13 weeks duration, with a full-time subject load of at least 20 hours a week See id. We conclude that the Academy is not a correspondence school and that the evidence provided by Cheyenne and school officials shows satisfaction of the full-time attendance requirement.

The agency expressly excludes from child’s insurance benefit eligibility those individuals 18 years old and older who are enrolled solely in correspondence courses because it did not believe such courses satisfied the Act’s definition of a secondary school. See 61 Fed. Reg. 38361-01, 1996 WL 409869; 48 Fed. Reg. 21924-01, 1983 WL 122346. The regulations do not define “noncorrespondence course,” “correspondence course,” or “correspondence school.” The POMS define correspondence school as “a school that teaches by mailing lessons and exercises to the student. Upon completion, the student returns the exercises to the school for grading.” See POMS RS 00205.330. As we have recently reiterated, “although the definition of ‘correspondence school,’ refers to submitting materials by mail, we believe that submitting materials over the internet constitutes merely a difference in methodology rather than substance.” See State Law Requirements for an Online Educational Institution, at p. 6 (NH Andres, student Zuyin: SSN ~ , Dec. 21, 2011) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

When analyzing whether an online school is a correspondence school, we have considered the degree of interaction between students and teachers. Compare Texas State Law Requirements for Internet Online Schooling (NH J.L., student Thomas: SSN ~, July 19, 2004) with Oklahoma State Law Requirements for an Online Educational Institution (NH William, student Mistie: SSN ~, Dec. 15, 2011) and Oklahoma State Law Requirements for Internet Online Schooling (NH David, student Loren: SSN ~ , Dec. 5, 2006). In the Thomas opinion, we determined that the virtual high school was a correspondence school because the student attended an online course of study that used a CD ROM program for instruction and testing and permitted only e-mail interaction with teachers. In contrast, in the Mistie and Loren opinions, we concluded that the virtual high schools were not correspondence schools because they provided interactive courses of study through online applications that permitted the students to obtain instant help from instructors.

The facts in the instant opinion are materially similar to those found in Mistie and Loren. The Academy does not merely offer correspondence courses because: (a) the students remain logged into the school’s website for approximately six hours per day; (b) attendance is logged for each class; (c) students interact directly with teachers via multiple, live online applications and telephone; (c) parental interaction further ensures participation; (d) students who do not participate may be expelled; and (e) Louisiana deems Academy students to be full-time students. Accordingly, we do not view the Academy as a correspondence school because the interaction between instructors and students exceeds the level typically associated with such institutions.

The regulations require that the claimant submit evidence verifying full-time school attendance. 20 C.F.R. § 404.745. To verify school attendance, a student must first complete Form 1372, then obtain certification of the form from a school official. POMS RS 00205.295F1, RS 00205.350B. POMS explains that the agency will reject any claim in which no school official has certified Form 1372. POMS RS 00205.295F1. Cheyenne has submitted the required documentation. Cheyenne alleges that she began attending the Academy and expects to continue attending the Academy throughout the school year, until May 30, 2012. Mary, her mother, claims that Cheyenne “logs on from home for at least 6 hours each day.” We originally opined that, if a school officially properly corroborated these statements, then Cheyenne’s attendance would qualify as full-time. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b), (c). However, although the record provided to us contained a Student Statement Regarding School Attendance, found on page two of Form 1372, it did not contain a Certification by School Official, located on page three of Form 1372. See POMS RS 00205.295F1 and RS 00205.350B. After we pointed out this lack of evidence, you responded by sending us a completed copy of Form 1372’s Certification by School Official, thus satisfying the agency’s requirements. Id. Accordingly, the agency should reinstate Cheyenne’s benefits because she has demonstrated that she is a full-time student attending a noncorrespondence, educational institution. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1)(B), (d)(7)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(5); POMS RS 00205.001(A).

CONCLUSION

We conclude that Cheyenne’s benefits should be reinstated. The Academy qualifies as a noncorrespondence, online educational institution. Furthermore, following submission of Form 1372’s Certification by School Attendance, the evidence shows that Cheyenne qualifies as a full-time student. Thus, despite turning eighteen years of age, Cheyenne remains entitled to child’s insurance benefits.

Michael McGaughran
Regional Chief Counsel

By_________

Mark J. Mendola
Assistant Regional Counsel


Footnotes:

[1]

Our previous legal opinion in this matter, dated January 26, 2012, found that the Academy qualified as an educational institution but that Cheyenne had not demonstrated that she attended the Academy as a full-time student. Accordingly, we determined that she was not entitled to continued benefits. See Louisiana Law – State Law Requirements for an Online Educational Institution — Louisiana Connections Academy (NH Woodie , SSN ~, Cheyenne , Student). On February 27, 2012, you submitted a certification of full-time attendance from the Academy, warranting this updated opinion.

[2]

Skype is an Internet protocol and software application that permits instantaneous peer-to-peer voice, video, and instant-messaging communication.

[3]

The POMS refers to elementary or secondary education schools, grade twelve or below, as educational institutions. See POMS RS 00205.200(A).

[4]

A secondary school is “a school intermediate between elementary school and college.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 1121 (11th ed. 2003). Here, Cheyenne attends high school. Thus, we address whether the Academy provides secondary education.

[5]

The evidence you provided does not show that Cheyenne was in a home school program while taking classes from the Academy.

[6]

The evidence does not show that Cheyenne participated in an independent study program. Local education agencies such as high schools or school districts run independent study programs, in accordance with specific State law requirements, and the credits earned count towards high school graduation. See POMS RS 00205.285(A).


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http://policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/1508205021
PR 08205.021 - Louisiana - 04/12/2012
Batch run: 04/12/2012
Rev:04/12/2012