TN 15 (05-11)

PR 08205.039 Ohio

A. PR 11-097 Ohio Online Schools—Goal Digital Academy Our Reference: 11-0064-ncs

DATE: May 3, 2011

1. SYLLABUS

Ohio law recognizes public community cyber schools, and SSA's presumption that these schools are educational institutions (EI) applies.  The Goal Digital Academy in Ohio is a public community school and is, therefore, an 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

You asked whether Goal Digital Academy is an educational institution. We believe that it is.

DISCUSSION

Under Section 202(d)(1) of the Social Security Act, child’s benefits, for a child that is not disabled, can continue after the child turns 18 (up until the age of 19) if the child is a full-time elementary or secondary school student. This means the child must attend a school that provides elementary or secondary education as determined under the law of the state where it is located.  See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367; POMS RS 00205.001, RS 00205.200. A public elementary or secondary school is generally presumed to be an educational institution. See POMS RS 00205.200

We have previously advised that Ohio recognizes public community cyber schools and that the presumption that the school is an educational institution would apply to such a school. See POMS PR 07905.039 (PR 08–182; PR 05-201; PR 05-154; PR 02-050).   Currently, these opinions are included only with the precedential opinions on educational institutions.  The materials you sent us indicate that Goal Virtual Academy is a public community school. Therefore, we can presume that it is an educational institution.

CONCLUSION

Donna L. C~
Regional Chief Counsel, Region V

By_________

Suzanne D~
Assistant Regional Counsel

B. PR 11-088 Legal Precedent Opinion regarding online school in Ohio

DATE: April 22, 2011

1. SYLLABUS

Treca Digital Academy (Treca), located in Marion, Ohio, provides elementary and secondary online education in accordance with Ohio law.  In addition, Treca meets the requirements of a community school under Ohio law and Ohio law, therefore, considers Treca a public school. Absent information to the contrary, SSA considers public elementary, middle, junior high, and high schools to be educational institutions (EI). Because it is a public school and because it provides elementary and secondary education in compliance with Ohio law, Treca is an EI for SSA purposes.  The student must also meet Federal standards for full-time attendance and all other requirements for payment of benefits. 

2. OPINION

You asked whether the Treca Digital Academy (“Treca”) in Marion, Ohio can be considered an educational institution for agency purposes, as defined in POMS RS 00205.200.  We conclude that under Ohio law, Treca is a public school that provides elementary and secondary education and, therefore, is an educational institution for agency purposes.

BACKGROUND

Claimant Rachel L. C~, who receives child’s insurance benefits, will attain the age of 18 in May 2011. C~ submitted a Student’s Statement Regarding School Attendance (Form SSA-1372-BK) on March 16, 2011. C~ stated that she resided in Circleville, Ohio, and was attending Treca, an online high school. She had attended the same school in the previous school year. C~ stated that she would be in full-time attendance until April 1, 2011, attending school twenty-five hours per week. A Treca official also signed the form, certifying that C~ was a full-time student at Treca.

You advised that Treca is located in Marion, Ohio, operates only in the state of Ohio, and offers only online courses. The school tracks both students’ time and attendance based on login information. Students are required to complete five lessons per class week, and log in at least once every 21 days. The school calculates time based on the number of lessons completed. Treca offers the same courses as a public school, and requires 20 credits for graduation, which also matches the requirements of Ohio public schools. Students have interactive, online access to both their Ohio-certified/qualified teachers and other students. In order to be eligible for student benefits, a student must be in full-time attendance at an educational institution. POMS RS 00205.001. Under POMS RS 00205.295, a child attending an online school may be a full-time student if the child meets the agency’s standards for full-time attendance and “if the online school is consistent with the law of the state in which the online school is located.” You did not raise any questions about whether Ms. C~ is a full-time student, and the evidence you provided would support a finding that she is. See POMS RS 00205.295(F)(1); RS 00205.300(C).

DISCUSSION

The Social Security Act (the “Act”) provides for the payment of child’s insurance benefits (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 over the age of 18, like Ms. C~, can continue to receive benefits if she is a full-time student at a secondary school. 42 U.S.C. §§ 402(d)(1), 402(d)(7)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(5). Section 202(d)(7)(C)(i) of the Act defines a “secondary school” as a school that provides secondary education “as determined under the law of the State or other jurisdiction in which it is located.” See also 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a); POMS RS 00205.200 (containing same definition). Unless there is some indication to the contrary, this POMS section considers public elementary, middle, junior high, and high schools to be educational institutions.

You have asked for an opinion on whether Treca is an “educational institution” as defined in POMS RS 00205.200, and, by extension, the regulations on which this POMS section is based. POMS RS 00205.200 requires the agency to determine whether a school “provides” education according to the home state. The section that applies to online schools, POMS RS 00205.295, states that an online school must be “consistent with the law of the state” where it is located. The undersigned spoke with a specialist at the Office of Income Security Programs on April 20, 2011, about this difference in language. The OISP specialist advised that the agency intended POMS RS 00205.295 to be read consistently with POMS RS 00205.200, and that the POMS did not impose a separate and more stringent test for online schools. Treca satisfies the requirements of a community school under Ohio law, and, therefore, under Ohio law, it is considered a public school. As a public school providing secondary education under the laws of Ohio, Treca also satisfies the requirements of an educational institution for agency purposes.

The Ohio Revised Code classifies a community school as “a public school, independent of any school district,” and part of Ohio’s program of education. Ohio Rev. Code § 3314.01(B). A community school operates under performance-based contracts with a sponsoring agency, such as a local school board or educational service center. Ohio Rev. Code §§ 3314.02(A)(1), (C)(1)(a)-(f). Ohio law expressly permits the establishment of Internet-based community schools. Ohio Rev. Code § 3314.02(A)(7). The Ohio Department of Education classifies Treca as a community school (App. A at 1, available at http://webapp2.ode.state.oh.us/oeds-r/query/ (search IRN # 143305)). Treca’s sponsor is Tri-Rivers (App. A at 1). Furthermore, as of the date of this opinion, The Office of Community Schools lists Treca as one of seven state-wide Accredited e-Schools, providing elementary and secondary education from grades K through 12 (App. A at 3, available at http://www.ode.state.oh.us/GD/DocumentManagement/DocumentDownload.aspx?DocumentID=59539). Based on the evidence submitted and attached to this opinion, the State of Ohio considers Treca to be a public school offering elementary and secondary education. Accordingly, pursuant to POMS RS 00205.200, Treca is an educational institution for agency purposes.

CONCLUSION

We conclude that Treca is a public school under Ohio law, and, therefore, qualifies for agency purposes as an educational institution under POMS RS 00205.200.  

Donna L. C~
Regional Chief Counsel, Region V

By_________

Douglas A. H~
Assistant Regional Counsel

C. PR 11-083 Ohio Connections Academy, an Ohio Online High School      

DATE: April 12, 2011

1. SYLLABUS

The Ohio Connections Academy (OCA), a public online school headquartered in Worthington, Ohio, provides elementary and secondary education in accordance with Ohio law. Absent information to the contrary, SSA considers public elementary, middle, junior high, and high schools to be educational institutions (EI).  Because OCA is a public school and because it provides elementary and secondary education in compliance with Ohio law, it is an 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

INTRODUCTION

You asked whether Kristen M. M~, who attends Ohio Connections Academy (OCA), an online school headquartered in Worthington, Ohio, can be considered a full-time secondary school student.  We believe OCA, which is an approved public online school in Ohio, is an educational institution (EI) for SSA purposes. We conclude that you could find that Ms. M~ is a full-time secondary school student as defined under section 202(d)(7) of the Social Security Act.

DISCUSSION

Applicable Social Security Law

Section 202(d)(1) of the Social Security Act provides that, under certain circumstances, a child of an individual entitled to old-age or disability insurance benefits, or of an individual who dies a fully or currently insured individual, shall be entitled to child’s insurance benefits (CIB).  One of the requirements for CIB eligibility for a non-disabled child is that the child must be unmarried and either under the age of 18 or a full-time elementary or secondary school student and under the age of 19. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1)(B).  For a child who was never under a disability, CIB benefits terminate when the child turns 18 years old if he or she is not a full-time elementary or secondary school student; and benefits terminate at age 19 regardless of the child’s educational status. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1)(F).

Section 202(d)(7)(A) of the Social Security Act defines “full-time elementary or secondary school student” as an individual who is in full-time attendance as a student at an elementary or secondary school as determined in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(7)(A).  The Social Security Act states at section 202(d)(7)(C)(i) 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).

The POMS explains at RS 00205.200(A) that an educational institution is a school that provides elementary or secondary education as determined under the law of the State or other jurisdiction in which it is located. POMS RS 00205.250(B)(1) states that it should be assumed public high schools in the United States are educational institutions, unless there is evidence to the contrary.

POMS RS 00205.295 provides policy about determining whether online schools are educational institutions for SSA purposes. The POMS defines an online school as “one that offers Internet-based courses to students.” POMS RS 00205.295(A). The POMS recognizes that online schools vary considerably in the methods used to provide education to students. According to the POMS, “[s]ome features of online schools may include virtual classrooms; an interactive curriculum; email, telephone, and fax access to teachers; either online or in-person completion of tests; required time spent online that the school monitors; and individualized instruction.” POMS RS 00205.295(A). 

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(C) and the online school is consistent with the law of the state in which the online school is located. POMS RS 00205.295(B).

Ohio Law on Online Schools

Ohio recognizes public online schools as educational institutions. According to the most recently passed definitions, an Internet- or computer-based community school is an institution:

in which the enrolled students work primarily from their residences on assignments in nonclassroom-based learning opportunities provided via an internet- or other computer-based instructional method that does not rely on regular classroom instruction or via comprehensive instructional methods that include internet-based, other computer-based, and noncomputer-based learning opportunities.

Ohio Revised Code § 3314.02(A)(7).

Ohio approved the establishment of public “Internet- or computer-based community schools” on a limited and experimental basis from 2000 through 2005. See R.C. § 3314.013 (2005 H 66, § 206.10.10). After 2005, however, the state no longer limited the number of eSchools that it will approve.

Internet- and computer-based community schools must comply with the requirements for all community schools, but they also have their own specific programming requirements.  For example, internet- and computer-based community schools “shall offer not less than nine hundred twenty hours of learning opportunities during the school year.”  .  Moreover, students enrolled at these schools cannot participate in more than ten hours of learning opportunities in any 24 hour period.   Additionally, an eSchool will not get state funding for a student unless the hardware and software on a computer supplied by the school are operational so that the student can fully participate in the learning opportunities specified in the school's contract with its sponsor. (N).R.C. § 3314.27

Internet- and computer-based community schools must comply with the requirements for all community schools, but they also have their own specific programming requirements. For example, internet- and computer-based community schools “shall offer not less than nine hundred twenty hours of learning opportunities during the school year.” R.C. § 3314.27 .  Moreover, students enrolled at these schools cannot participate in more than ten hours of learning opportunities in any 24 hour period.Id.   Additionally, an eSchool will not get state funding for a student unless the hardware and software on a computer supplied by the school are operational so that the student can fully participate in the learning opportunities specified in the school's contract with its sponsor. R.C. § 3314.08(N).R.C. § 3314.27

Ohio Connections Academy See http://www.connectionsacademy.com/ohio-school/home.aspx

Both the materials you have provided and the school’s website show that Ohio Connections Academy is a tuition-free, K–12 public eSchool that students attend online.  The school is authorized under state law by the Ohio Council of Community Schools, and it receives state funding. We can reasonably infer it was created in accordance with Ohio law.  The POMS provide that, absent evidence to the contrary, it should be assumed that public high schools in the United States are educational institutions. POMS RS 00205.250(B)(1). Thus, we conclude that Ohio Connections Academy is an educational institution.        

Full Time Attendance

The regulations explain at 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a) that a person is a “full-time elementary or secondary school student” if he or she attends a school that provides elementary or secondary education, respectively, as determined under the law of the State or other jurisdiction in which it is located. In addition, in order to be considered a “full-time elementary or secondary school student,” the student must be in full-time attendance in a day or evening noncorrespondance course of at least 13 weeks duration and carry a subject load, which is considered full-time for day students under the institution’s standards and practices. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b). The regulations provide at 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(c) that a student is in full-time attendance if his or her scheduled attendance is at least 20 hours per week, unless certain exceptions apply. See also POMS RS 00205.300 (“What is Full-Time Attendance”).

Based on the information you provided, Ms. M~ appears to meet the Federal standards for full time attendance. OCA is headquartered in Worthington, Ohio, though Ms. M~ is associated with the Cincinnati location. See Form SSA-1372-BK; Form SSA-5002. Ms. M~ completed a statement regarding school attendance in which she states that she is a full time student and, additionally, that she is scheduled to attend school 28 hours a week. See Form SSA-1372-BK. On this form, she also indicated the school year spanned from August 23, 2010 to May 20, 2011, which is a total of 39 weeks.  Even assuming holidays and breaks during fall, winter holidays, and spring, this would indicate that there are more than 13 weeks in each semester. Moreover, Ohio law requires that eSchools “shall offer not less than nine hundred twenty hours of learning opportunities during the school year.”  R.C. § 3314.27. This would be equivalent to over 32 weeks of school at 28 hours per week.  Put another way, this law would require well over 20 hours a week of attendance to fit into the 39-week school year

A school official also certified Ms. M~’s statement regarding school attendance and indicated that the school’s course of study is at least 13 weeks in duration. See Form SSA-1372-BK. The school verified that students are required to attend 5.5 hours per day, or 28 hours per week. See Form SSA-5002. Based on the materials you have provided, you could find that Ms. M~ has satisfied the Federal requirements for full time attendance.  

Because Ohio Connections Academy receives state funding, we can reasonably presume the school was created and operates in accordance with the Ohio school code.  Moreover, the POMS provides that we should “[c]onsider 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.” POMS RS 00205.300(B).  As noted above, according to the school, the required attendance for students is 28 hours a week and the semester is at least 13 weeks in duration. Moreover, Ms. M~ stated that she is scheduled to attend OCA 28 hours a week.  Finally, the state of Ohio requires instruction for 920 hours per year, which well surpasses these requirements. R.C. § 3314.27 For these reasons, we conclude that you could find that Ms. M~ has satisfied the State and federal requirements for full time attendance.

CONCLUSION

We conclude that Ohio Connections Academy, which is a public online school in Ohio, is an educational institution. Ms. M~ also appears to satisfy the full-time attendance requirement.  We therefore conclude that you could find that Ms. M~ is a full-time secondary school student as defined under section 202(d)(7) of the Social Security Act. 

Donna L. C~
Regional Chief Counsel Region V

By_________

Adam R. S~
Assistant Regional Counsel


To Link to this section - Use this URL:
http://policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/1508205039
PR 08205.039 - Ohio - 05/24/2011
Batch run: 05/24/2011
Rev:05/24/2011