You have requested an opinion regarding whether an online educational entity providing
instruction via the Internet to a student residing in Oklahoma meets the Social Security
Administration's (Agency's) definition of a secondary school. More specifically, you
ask whether the online school meets the requirements of section 202(d)(7)(C)(i) of
the Social Security Act (Act). We believe that the online school is a secondary school
under the Act, that Loren is a full-time student, and that Loren is entitled to benefits
on the account of the number holder once she turned eighteen.
The facts you presented indicate that Loren attained age 18 in February 2006, after
which the Agency terminated her child's benefits. On November 30, 2005, Loren completed
SSA Form 1372, Student's Statement Regarding School Attendance, stating that she currently
attended the Advanced Science and Technology Education Center Charter High School
(ASTEC) full-time, that she participated in online instruction for 22 hours per week,
and that she expected to graduate in May 2006. ASTEC is a college preparatory school
offering a liberal arts elementary and secondary education. See http://www.astec-inc.org/high_school.htm. For the 2005-2006 school year, ASTEC partnered with Advanced Academics and introduced
a fully accredited virtual school for grades 6 through 12 called the Virtual School
of Oklahoma (Virtual School). See http://www.astec-inc.org/VSO%20home.htm.
Janet , ASTEC's registrar, signed and dated SSA Form 1382, certifying that the Virtual
School's course of study was at least 13 weeks in duration. Staff in the Accreditation/Standard
Services department of the Oklahoma State Board of Education confirmed verbally that
by virtue of the fact that ASTEC is under the umbrella of the Oklahoma City school
district, it is accredited by the Oklahoma Board of Education.
Section 202(d)(1)(B) of the Social Security Act (Act) provides for the payment of
child's insurance benefits to certain persons over the age of 18 who are full-time
elementary or secondary school students. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 402(d)(1)(B), 402(d)(7)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(5). Section 202(d)(7)(C)(i)
provides that an "elementary or secondary school" is a school which provides elementary
or secondary education, as determined under the law of the state or other jurisdiction
in which it is located. See 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(7)(C)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a). The Agency considers a student
to be a full-time secondary school student if the student attends a school which provides
secondary education under the law of the state in which the school is located and
if the student: (1) is in full-time attendance in a day or evening non-correspondence
course of at least 13 weeks duration; (2) carries a subject load considered full-time
for day students under the institution's standards and practices; and (3) attends
school at least 20 hours a week. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.367(a),(b),(c). A student receiving home school instruction in accordance
with the law of the state in which she resides is considered a secondary school student
under Agency regulations. See id.
We first address the question of whether ASTEC qualifies as a secondary school under
Oklahoma law. See 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(7)(C)(i). Elementary schools in Oklahoma either go through grades
six or eight. See Okla. St. Ann. 70, § 5-103; see http://sde.state.ok.us/home/defaultie.html (Oklahoma School Code, Section VI, states that elementary schools may include either
kindergarten-sixth grades or kindergarten through eighth grades). ASTEC's high school,
which Loren attends, offers programs for ninth through twelfth grade students. See http://www.astec-inc.org/. Thus, ASTEC's Virtual School is a secondary school.
We next look to whether a charter school can be a secondary school. An Oklahoma charter
school is "a public school established by contract with a board of education of a
school district . . . to provide learning that will improve student achievement .
. . ." Okla. St. Ann. 70, § 3-132(B). Under Oklahoma law, a charter school may be
a secondary school. See id. ASTEC satisfies the requirements of a charter school under Oklahoma law and is accredited
by the Oklahoma State Board of Education. Under Oklahoma law, a school day in a secondary
school must consist of not less than six hours devoted to school activities. See Okla. St. Ann. 70, § 1-111(A) ("A school day shall consist of not less than six (6)
hours devoted to school activities").
And ASTEC's school day schedule indicates that it complies with the six hour requirement.
See http://www.astec-inc.org/PDF%20FILES/Bell%20Schedule.pdf. Thus, we conclude that ASTEC qualifies as a secondary school under Oklahoma law.
Because the Virtual School is a program that ASTEC sponsors and runs, it also qualifies
as a secondary school under Oklahoma law. Oklahoma law expressly authorizes Internet-based
courses for school children. See Okla. St. Ann. 70, § 1-111(C) (recognition of the need for availability of Internet-based
courses); see also Okla. St. Ann. 70, § 1210.722 (establishment of the Virtual Internet School in Oklahoma
Network (VISION) Pilot Program). Internet-based courses offered by a technology center
school and taught by a certified teacher may, if approved, count for academic credit
and toward meeting graduation requirements under Oklahoma law. See Okla. St. Ann. 70, § 11-103.6(I)(2). Students are not considered absent from school
if they are participating in a remote Internet-based course that has been approved
by the district board of education. See Okla. St. Ann. 70, § 1-111(B). Because the Oklahoma Board of Education accredited
ASTEC and because Oklahoma law allows Internet-based courses to count for academic
credit, we believe that the Virtual School qualifies as a secondary school under Oklahoma
We next address the question of whether Loren is a full-time student according to
Agency regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367. To be considered a full-time student, Loren must, among other
things, attend a non-correspondence course of at least 13 weeks duration, with a full-time
subject load of at least 20 hours a week See id. at (b) and (c). The Agency expressly excluded from eligibility those individuals
who are enrolled solely in correspondence courses because it did not believe such
courses satisfied the definition of an elementary or secondary school in the Act.
See 61 Fed. Reg. 38361-01, 1996 WL 409869; 48 Fed. Reg. 21924-01, 1983 WL 122346. The
regulations do not define what constitutes a correspondence course. Thus, we look
to a generally accepted definition to ascertain the meaning of these terms. See Edmundson v. Pierce, 91 P.2d 605, 637 (Okla. 2004) (general rule of statutory construction that words
in a statute should be given their ordinary meaning). According to Webster's Dictionary,
a correspondence school is one that teaches non-resident students by mailing lessons
and exercises to them that upon completion the student returns to the school for grading.
See Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary 280 (11th ed. 2003).
While we issued an opinion concerning an on-line school in Texas in which we concluded
that the on-line course of study constituted a correspondence school, the facts that
you presented to us in this instance are distinguishable. See Texas State Law Requirements for Internet Online Schooling (NH J.L. D~, Student Thomas:
SSN ~, July 19, 2004). In the Thomas opinion, the number holder's child attended an
online course of study, which utilized a CD ROM program for instruction and testing
and e-mail interaction with teachers. In this case, however, the Virtual School provides
an interactive course of study as opposed to a typical correspondence school course
where students complete their studies at their convenience and mails in the assignments.
Advanced Academic's website shows that students that use its program have the ability
to receive instant interactive help from ASTEC instructors. See http://www1.advancedacademics.net/new_student_faq.htm. Using the white board feature attached to the chat room, Loren can watch her teacher
work out problems in an interactive manner. Id. Thus, this case is distinguishable from the facts in D~. Because the Virtual School's
courses are taught interactively, we believe that this course of study is not equivalent
to submitting assignments through the mail as is done in a typical correspondence
school set up.
In conclusion, we believe that the Virtual School is not a correspondence school and
that Loren can be considered a full-time student under Agency regulations.
Tina M. Waddell
Regional Chief Counsel
Assistant Regional Counsel