TN 38 (12-14)

PR 08205.026 Minnesota

A. PR 15-034 Minnesota Virtual Academy / J~ - REPLY

DATE: December 4, 2014

1. SYLLABUS

The Minnesota Virtual Academy (MVA) in Houston, Minnesota, is a Minnesota online public school that operates as an extension of the Houston public school system. The MVA provides elementary and secondary education in accordance with Minnesota law and is, therefore, an educational institution for SSA purposes. 

2. OPINION

QUESTION PRESENTED

You asked whether Minnesota Virtual Academy in Houston, Minnesota, may be considered an educational institution for purposes of awarding student benefits.

For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that Minnesota Virtual Academy qualifies as an educational institution. We further conclude that the claimant appears to meet the requirements for full-time attendance.

BACKGROUND

The claimant, J~, is seeking child’s insurance benefits (CIB) due to his status as a full-time student at Minnesota Virtual Academy. The agency uses Form SSA-1372-BK as the primary means for determining whether a child is a full-time student at a qualifying educational institution. POMS RS 00205.735. The claimant submitted an undated SSA-1372-BK, indicating that he was scheduled to attend Minnesota Virtual Academy on a full-time basis (30 hours per week) for the 2014-2015 academic year; he also indicated that he expected to graduate in June 2017. The SSA 1372-BK was certified by Principal T~. Principal T~ indicated that the information the claimant provided on the SSA 1372-BK was correct, and that the school’s course of study was at least 13 weeks in duration.

DISCUSSION

To qualify for student benefits, a claimant must be at least 18 years old, but under age 19, and a full-time elementary or secondary school student at a qualifying educational institution. See Section 202(d)(1)(B) of the Act; 20 C.F.R. §404.350(a)(5). In order to qualify as an educational institution for the purposes of awarding student benefits, the school must provide an education “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 POMS RS 00205.200(A). The POMS refers to such a school as an “educational institution.” POMS RS 00205.200(A). Under the POMS, it is assumed that public schools in the United States are educational institutions, absent evidence to the contrary; a non-public school cannot be assumed to be an educational institution. POMS RS 00205.250(B).

It does not matter if the school is online, so long as the school meets state law requirements. POMS RS 00205.295. An online school is “one that offers Internet-based courses to students.” POMS RS 00205.295(A).

The claimant must also show that he is a full-time elementary or secondary school student in order to qualify for student benefits. The Act defines “full-time elementary or secondary school student” as an individual who is in full-time attendance at an elementary or secondary school. Section 202(d)(7)(a) of the Act; see also 20 C.F.R. §404.367. A child attending an online school may be considered a full-time student if: (1) the student meets the standards for full-time attendance as defined in POMS RS 00205.300, and (2) the online school is consistent with the law of the state in which the online school is located. POMS RS 00205.295(B).

To satisfy the “full-time attendance” requirement, a student must meet both federal and state standards. POMS RS 00205.300(A). To meet the federal standards, the claimant must be enrolled in a non-correspondence course of at least 13 weeks’ duration and be scheduled for attendance at the rate of at least 20 hours per week (with certain exceptions). 20 C.F.R. §404.367(b), (c); POMS RS 00205.300(C). The state requirements are met if the school considers the claimant to be a full-time student based on the school’s standards and practices for day students. POMS RS 00205.300(B).

Minnesota Virtual Academy Qualifies as an Educational Institution

Because Minnesota Virtual Academy is a school based in Minnesota, it is necessary to examine Minnesota law to determine whether it qualifies as an educational institution. Under Minnesota law, a “secondary school” means any school with building, equipment, courses of study, class schedules, enrollment of pupils ordinarily in grades 7 through 12 or any portion thereof, and staff meeting the standards established by the commissioner of education. M.S.A. §120A.05(13). Admission to a school supported by public funds is free to anyone under the age of 21 who meets the residency requirements of the district that operates the school under Minnesota law. M.S.A. §120A.20. Schools must provide instruction in basic communications skills (including reading, writing, literature, and fine arts); mathematics and science; social studies (including history, geography, and government); and health and physical education. M.S.A. §120A.22(9). The Minnesota Education Code expressly authorizes online learning options. M.S.A. §124D.095. Online learning programs must meet or exceed state academic standards. M.S.A. §124D.095, subd. 7(b).

Minnesota Virtual Academy is a Minnesota online public school that operates as an extension of the Houston Public School System. Because Minnesota Virtual Academy is a public school, we assume it is an educational institution unless there is evidence to the contrary. See POMS RS 00205.250B. In this case, there is no evidence contrary to Minnesota Virtual Academy’s presumed nature as an educational institution. Minnesota Virtual Academy’s website advises that it follows the same state curriculum and criteria for graduation as traditional Minnesota public schools, with issuance of a Minnesota high school diploma upon graduation from the 12th grade. 1 The website also indicates that all teachers are licensed by the State of Minnesota, enrollment is limited to Minnesota residents, and the school is funded by the State of Minnesota.

Notably, Minnesota Virtual Academy is included on the Minnesota Department of Education’s list of public online learning providers with state-approved programs, and who comply with state reporting and accountability requirements. 2 Schools on this list offer courses that are: taught by licensed Minnesota teachers; meet or exceed state academic standards; transfer to other public school districts; and apply toward high school graduation. 3 Given this explicit approval by the Minnesota Department of Education, as well as the other factors discussed above, we believe that Minnesota Virtual Academy provides elementary and secondary education as determined under the law of Minnesota, and that it therefore meets the requirements for an educational institution.

The Claimant Appears to Meet Federal and State Attendance Standards

In addition to attending a qualifying educational institution, a student must meet both federal and state attendance requirements to qualify for student benefits. POMS RS 00205.300(A). As stated above, to meet the federal standards, the claimant must be enrolled in a non-correspondence course of at least 13 weeks’ duration and be scheduled for attendance at the rate of at least 20 hours per week (with certain exceptions). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b), (c); POMS RS 00205.300(C). On the SSA-1372-BK, the claimant asserted that he was scheduled to attend Minnesota Virtual Academy a total of 30 hours per week. Minnesota Virtual Academy Principal T~ certified that the claimant’s statements were correct, and that the school’s course of study was at least 13 weeks in duration. Based on this information, the claimant appears to meet the federal requirements, as he was scheduled to attend more than 20 hours per week for at least 13 weeks.

However, in order to qualify for student benefits, the claimant must also meet state attendance requirements. State attendance requirements are met if a student is considered full-time based on the school’s standards and practices. POMS RS 000205.300(B). Principal T~ advised the Bemidji, Minnesota Field Office that students must complete five days (30 hours) of classwork per week in order to be considered enrolled on a full-time basis. In the SSA-1372-BK, Principal T~ certified the claimant’s scheduled attendance of 30 hours per week, which falls within Minnesota Virtual Academy’s expectation for full-time attendance. The claimant therefore appears to meet the state attendance requirements as well.

Conclusion

For the reasons discussed above, we find that Minnesota Virtual Academy is an educational institution. In addition, it appears that the claimant meets both federal and state attendance requirements.

Kathryn Caldwell
Acting Regional Chief Counsel
By: __________

Tiffani Jake

Assistant Regional Counsel

B. PR 12-044 Minnesota – Whether the Virtual High School Qualifies as an Minnesota Educational Institution – NH Kirk, SSN~; Claimant Ashley – REPLY

DATE: January 19, 2012

1. SYLLABUS

Virtual High School of Minnesota (MVHS) is an internet-based electronic school for grades 6-12, with central offices in Minneapolis, Minnesota. MVHS meets Minnesota 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

BACKGROUND

Claimant, who has turned 18, was entitled to CIB on the account of the NH. Claimant submitted an SSA-1372-BK form stating that she attended the Minnesota Virtual High School (MVHS), an online secondary school, from January 25, 2011 until June 8, 2011. Claimant asserted that she was scheduled to attend online classes 20 hours/week. Claimant had transferred to a different school in September 2011, and expected to graduate in the summer of 2012.

Stacy, the dean of students for MVHS, certified that the information on Claimant’s SSA-1372-BK was correct. She also provided a student progress report showing Claimant’s login times for the semester that she attended MVHS. In e-mail correspondence with SSA, Dean stated that Claimant would have been considered a full-time student. Dean also attested that MVHS’s course of study was at least 13 weeks in duration. Successful students at MVHS must log on for 20-25 hours of learning on the computer each week, and make adequate weekly progress in their lessons. The minimum required login time is five hours per day, or 25 hours per week. To facilitate students’ weekly progress, school staff are available online to communicate with students about questions, computer problems, and school struggles. School policy requires students to attend all mandatory testing days.

According to its website, MVHS is an online program for grades 6-12, offered by the Minnesota Transitions Charter School. MVHS students receive their diploma from Transitions Charter School, which is part of the Minnesota state school system. MVHS is a public school, available at no cost to students throughout Minnesota. Only residents of Minnesota are eligible for enrollment. MVHS receives the same per-student funding from the state of Minnesota as traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Because MVHS is a public school, it also provides special instruction and services to students with disabilities, including students who require individualized education plans. MVHS is accredited by the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA-CASI), an accrediting agency recognized by the United States Department of Education.

To be considered in full-time attendance at MVHS, students must log on daily and spend a minimum of 5 hours per school day, 25 hours per week, online working in their courses. See MVHS 2010/2011 Parent Student Handbook at 6; www.minnesotavirtualhighschool.com. MVHS tracks attendance through an online system. To graduate, students must take a minimum of 64.5 credits in English (12 credits), Social Studies (12 credits), Math (9 credits), Science (9 credits), Fine Arts (3 credits), PE/Health (3 credits), and 16.5 credits of elective courses. They must also pass all state-mandated annual assessments and graduation tests. Students must take this tests in person at state-specific testing centers, rather than online. MVHS requires that its teachers be certified by Minnesota. Teachers are available to students around the clock from 10 PM Sunday through 8 PM Friday, via phone, e-mail, or instant messaging. Students are also assigned an online counselor to help them choose an appropriate curriculum.

DISCUSSION

The Social Security Act (“the Act”) provides for the payment of CIB to certain unmarried children of individuals who are deceased or who are entitled to old-age or disability insurance benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d). A child who has reached the age of 18 but has not yet turned 19 can continue to receive benefits if the child is a full-time elementary or secondary school student. 42 U.S.C. §§ 402(d)(1), 402(d)(7)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.350(a)(5), 404.367. CIB benefits terminate when the child turns 19, regardless of her educational status. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1)(F).

The Act specifies that full-time attendance at an educational institution is a prerequisite to receiving CIB. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d). Thus, to be eligible to receive CIB, an individual who has turned 18 years of age but has not yet reached age 19 must be a full-time elementary or secondary school student at an educational institution. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(7)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.367. Section 202(d)(7)(C)(i) of the Act specifies 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)(1); POMS RS 00205.200. Unless there is some indication to the contrary, the following public schools in the United States are considered educational institutions: elementary schools, middle schools, junior high schools, and high schools. See POMS RS 00205.250(B)(1). The POMS also sets forth the procedure for determining the status of a school as an educational institution. Id.

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 POMS RS 00205.300, and the online school is consistent with the law of the state in which the online school is located. Id. To meet Federal attendance standards, the student must be scheduled for attendance at the rate of at least 20 hours per week; be enrolled in a course that is not a correspondence course; and be enrolled in a course of study that last for at least 13 weeks. POMS RS 00205.300(c).

MVHS Is an Educational Institution

You asked whether MVHS is an educational institution under Minnesota law. Therefore, pursuant to the statute, regulations, and POMS, it is necessary to examine Minnesota law to determine whether MVHS is an educational institution. Under Minnesota law, a “secondary school” means any school with building, equipment, courses of study, class schedules, enrollment of pupils ordinarily in grades 7 through 12 or any portion thereof, and staff meeting the standards established by the commissioner of education. M.S.A. § 120A.05(13). Under Minnesota law, admission to a school supported by public funds is free to anyone under the age of 21 who meets the residency requirements of the district that operates the school. M.S.A. § 120A.20. Schools must provide instruction in basic communications skills (including reading, writing, literature and fine arts); mathematics and science; social studies (including history, geography and government); and health and physical education. M.S.A. § 120A.22(9).

Despite the requirement that a secondary school have a building and scheduled classes, M.S.C. § 120A.05(13), the Minnesota Education Code expressly authorizes online learning options. M.S.A. § 124D.095. A school district, two or more cooperating school districts, and Minnesota charter schools may provide online learning programs to Minnesota residents. M.S.A. § 124D.095(b)-(e). Online learning programs must meet or exceed state academic standards. M.S.A. § 124D.095(a).

MVHS is not sponsored by a traditional school district, but by Minnesota Transitions Charter School. However, the Minnesota Education Code expressly authorizes the formation of charter schools. M.S.A. § 124D.10. Minnesota includes charter schools in its definition of “public schools.” Minn. Admin. Code § 2501.0030(11) (citing M.S.A. § 120A ). Individual school districts may authorize charter schools within their districts. M.S.A. § 124D.10 In addition, nonsectarian charitable organizations whose sole purpose is to charter schools may become charter school authorizers under Minnesota law, as long as they are incorporated in Minnesota and, among other criteria, the Minnesota Commissioner of Education determines that they meet the requirements of the Minnesota Education Code. M.S.A. § 124D.10(3)(b)(5), 124D.10(3)(c)-(d). One purpose of charter schools is to encourage different and innovative teaching methods. M.S.A. § 124D.10(3). The Minnesota Commissioner of Education must review the authorizer’s performance at least every five years. M.S.A. § 124D.10(3)(i). Minnesota generally considers an independent authorizer of charter schools to be equivalent to a school district, and teachers at charter schools must generally hold professional licenses from the state of Minnesota. M.S.A. § 124D.10(4); Minn. Admin. Code § 8710.0300.

MVHS meets Minnesota’s requirements for a secondary school. Although classes are entirely online, and students proceed at their own pace, MVHS has physical offices, and provides students with specific courses of study. MVHS receives public funds, and is free to Minnesota residents under age 21. MVHS hires professional teachers who hold Minnesota teaching certificates. It meets Minnesota’s basic curriculum requirements, and its curriculum is directed toward providing MVHS students with high school diploma. MVHS’s graduation requirements exceed the minimum requirements under Minnesota law. See M.S.A. § 120B.024(a). Therefore, MVHS meets the criteria for an educational institution under the Act.

Claimant Apparently Did Not Meet MVHS Requirements for Full-Time Attendance

Claimant asserted that she was scheduled for at least 20 hours of instruction per week, in a program that lasted more than 13 weeks, for courses that Minnesota does not consider to be correspondence courses. Dean has certified that Claimant’s statements are correct. Thus, Claimant meets the minimum Federal standards for a full time student. POMS RS 00205.300(C). However, to qualify as a full time student she must also meet MVHS’s standards and practices for day students. POMS RS 00205.300(B). Dean stated in an e-mail to SSA that Claimant “would have been considered [a] full time” student at MVHS. However, this statement appears to be at odds with the attendance log that Dean provided to SSA. Claimant was enrolled at MVHS for a full semester, and the attendance log shows only one day during that semester when Claimant logged on for more than five hours. The MVHS Parent/Student Handbook states “Attendance is tracked in our online system and students failing to meet our attendance requirements will be marked absent for the day. . . . A full time student is required to be online working in their courses no less than 5 hours per school day.”

MVHS 2010-2011 Parent/Student Handbook at 6; www.minnesotavirtualhighschool.com. In addition, MVHS requires full-time students to “engage

daily in course work that totals a minimum of 25 hours per week.” Id. at 7. The attendance log also shows that throughout the semester that Claimant was enrolled at MVHS, she never spent more than 16 hours logged on in a given week, and most weeks logged on for less than ten hours. Thus, it appears that Claimant did not meet MVHS’s minimum requirements for full-time day students. Because Dean’s statement that Claimant “would have been considered full time” appears inconsistent with the evidence from Claimant’s login times, we recommend that you re-contact Dean and ask for a more extensive explanation of why Claimant was not considered absent on days when she spent less than five hours online, and thus whether Claimant met MVHS’s minimum attendance standards for a full time student. Claimant may not considered in full-time attendance for purposes of the Act unless she met MVHS’s minimum attendance standards in addition to the minimum federal standards. POMS RS 00205.300(B).

CONCLUSION

MVHS is an educational institution because it provides a secondary education as determined under the law of Minnesota. A student at MVHS who meets the school’s minimum requirements for full time attendance would be considered a full time student for purposes of receiving CIB. However, it is not clear that Claimant met MVHS’s requirements for full-time attendance. SSA should clarify her status in order to determine whether she was entitled to CIB on the NH’s account during the period in question.  

Grace M. Kim
Acting Regional Chief Counsel, Region V

By_________

Julie L. Bentz
Assistant Regional Counsel

C. PR 12-004 Does Connections Academy, an online charter high school, qualify as an Educational Institution Under Minnesota State Law for purposes of Child’s Insurance Benefits? Claimant: Ashley , SSN~, claim based on SNN~ - REPLY.

DATE: October 17, 2011

1. SYLLABUS

Minnesota Transitional Schools Minnesota Connections Academy (MTS Minnesota Connections Academy) is an online charter school, located in St. Paul, Minnesota, that offers education for kindergarten through 12th grade. Online charter schools in Minnesota are part of the state’s public education system if approved by the Minnesota Department of Education. 

The Minnesota Department of Education has approved MTS Minnesota Connections Academy, and it is, therefore, an educational institution for SSA purposes.

2. OPINION

INTRODUCTION

This memorandum is in response to your question regarding whether MTS Minnesota Connections Academy is an educational institution (EI), and whether it satisfies the state standards for full-time attendance. We conclude that MTS Minnesota Connections Academy is an EI and satisfies the state standards for full-time attendance.

BACKGROUND

Ashley applied for CIB on the basis that she attended an on-line school, “Connections Academy.” She provided the school’s address as St. Paul, Minnesota.

Connectionsacademy.com lists two on-line schools available in Minnesota, MTS Minnesota Connections Academy and National Connections Academy. MTS Minnesota Connections Academy’s address matches the one provided by Ashley, while National Connections Academy is based in Baltimore, Maryland. Thus, we presume that Ashley seeks benefits for her attendance at MTS Minnesota Connections Academy.

MTS Minnesota Connections Academy (MTS Connections) is an on-line charter school. It offers kindergarten through 12th grade. It is free. http://www.connectionsacademy.com/minnesota-school/our-school/home.aspx. The school’s representative certified that the course of study was at least 13 weeks in duration, and that Ashley was a full-time student, attending 30 hours per week.

DISCUSSION

A CIB applicant must meet two requirements to be considered a full-time student under the Social Security Act (Act). She must be an elementary or secondary school student at an educational institution that qualifies as a school under state law. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(7)(c)(i); POMS RS 00205.001(A). She must also attend that school full-time. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(7)(A); POMS RS 00205.001(A).

We conclude that Ashley meets these criteria based on Minnesota state law and the information available about MTS Connections. 

  1. Under Minnesota Law, MTS Minnesota Connections Academy is an EI.

MTS Connections is an on-line program offered by Minnesota Transitional Schools (MTS). MTS is a charter school. http://www.connectionsacademy.com/minnesota-school/our-school/home.aspx. 

A school is an EI if it 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(A). On-line schools may be EIs if they qualify as such under state law. POMS RS 00205.295

In Minnesota, an on-line charter school is part of the state’s system of public education, and it must be approved by the Minnesota Department of Education. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 124D.10, subd. 7, 8(n). The Department will approve an on-line charter school if it meets certain criteria, including that the curriculum is aligned with state academic standards and contributes to grade progression in a single subject. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 124D.095, subd. 7(a). Minnesota maintains a list of on-line charter schools that meet the statutory requirements. § 124D.095, subd. 7(d). MTS Minnesota Connections is listed on the Department’s website as an approved on-line charter school. http://education.state.mn.us/mdeprod/groups/Choice/documents/Publication/031616.pdf.  

Given this approval, we believe that MTS Connections provides elementary and secondary education as determined under the law of Minnesota and it therefore meets the requirements for an EI.

  1. Ashley is in full-time attendance at MTS Connections.

In order to be a full-time elementary or secondary school student, the student must satisfy both federal and state standards. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b),(c); POMS RS 00205.300(A).To be considered full-time, a student must (1) be in full-time attendance in a day or evening non-correspondence course of at least 13 weeks duration; (2) carry a subject load considered full-time for day students under the institution’s standards and practices; and (3) attend school at least twenty hours a week. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b)-(c); See also POMS RS 00205.300(B),(C).

MTS Connections certified that Ashley is in full-time attendance and that she was scheduled to attend school for 30 hours per week. MTS Connections also certified that the program is of at least 13 weeks duration. Thus, under the federal and state standards, Ashley is in full-time attendance at MTS Connections.

CONCLUSION

We conclude that MTS Connections is an EI under Minnesota state law and that you could reasonably find that Ashley is in full-time attendance at Connections.    

Grace M. Kim
Acting Regional Chief Counsel

By_________

Diana S. Andsager
Assistant Regional Counsel


Footnotes:<