Your memorandum inquired as to whether the cyber charter "home schooling" of Freddie
qualifies him as a full-time student entitled to receive student benefits.
We have reviewed the information that you provided and have researched the relevant
provisions of Pennsylvania and federal law. For your convenience, we have also cited
relevant provisions of the Program Operations Manual System (POMS) derived from the
federal law. It is our opinion that Freddie' attendance at the Pennsylvania Leadership
Charter School (PALCS), a cyber charter school approved by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,
satisfies the federal regulation requirement at 20 C.F.R. § 404.367 for full-time
attendance at a secondary program approved by the state in which it is located. We
also believe that satisfies the regulation's requirement that he carry a subject load
considered full-time for day students under the standards and practices of the school,
and that he attend a non-correspondence course of at least thirteen weeks in duration
for at least twenty hours a week. Therefore, we believe that Freddie satisfies all
of the requirements set forth in the federal regulations at 20 C.F.R. § 404.367 for
full-time attendance, and is entitled to receive student's benefits beyond attaining
the age of eighteen, through the close of the school year in which he turns age nineteen
provided that documentation of continued full-time attendance on Form SSA-1372 is
You indicated in your memorandum of February 15, 2007 that Freddie was born on December
and reached the age of eighteen on December 11, 2006, when his child's benefits were
terminated. You provided a Master Beneficiary Record (MBR) printout indicating that
Freddie was receiving auxiliary benefits as a child of Frederick . Freddie reports
his residence as Wyalusing, Pennsylvania. Our research assumes that Freddie was a
resident of Pennsylvania during the time period relevant to his claim for benefits.
You stated that your research indicated that the legislature of the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania established charter schools by Act 22 in 1997, that cyber charter schools
are approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and that you located a listing
for the PALCS on the Commonwealth's Department of Education internet site (www.pde.state.pa.us)
as an approved operating cyber charter school for 2006-2007. PALCS is headquartered
in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
The information that you provided from the Pennsylvania Department of Education web
site indicates that charter school applications are submitted to the local school
district board of directors where the public charter school is to be located. See also Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1717-A(c). The charter from the local school district is an
agreement or contract between the school district and the charter school. Under the
Pennsylvania law in effect for cyber charter schools when PALCS obtained a charter,
the school district had the responsibility for approving and renewing charters of
cyber charter schools and for oversight of the charter school. The school district
was responsible for paying the charter school the increased "Selected Expenditures"
for a special education student when the student has been identified as a student
in need of special education services and has established an "individualized educational
plan." You provided an invoice from the PALCS to the Wyalusing Area School District
for Special Education provided monthly from September 2006 through January 2007 in
the amount of $5,432.66.
Our research indicates that, effective September 1, 2006, when requesting an initial
charter or renewal of its charter, a cyber charter school will apply to the Department
of Education rather than the local school district, and that the Department of Education
will have oversight over the cyber charter school. However, while still operating
under an initial charter issued by a local school district, as is PALCS, the local
school district will have oversight of the cyber charter school until it is time to
renew the charter. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1741-A.
You provided a Student's Statement Regarding School Attendance (Form SSA-1372) completed
on December 6, 2006, by Freddie and Marilyn , Director of Special Education in the
Wyalusing Area School District, Wyalusing, Pennsylvania, the school district in which
Freddie resides, indicating that Freddie attends the PALCS thirty-five to forty hours
a week, and that the present school year began on September 6, 2006, and will end
in June 2007. The Form SSA-1372 also indicates that Freddie attended classes at Wyalusing
Valley High School until September 6, 2006, when he began attending PALCS on the internet
from home. You provided a documentation indicating the hours that Freddie was connected
to the PALCS site from September 6, 2006, through January 10, 2007.
1. The Applicable Federal Regulations
The federal regulations at 20 C.F.R.§ 404.352 provide that entitlement to child's
benefits ends in the month before the month that the child turns age eighteen, if
the child is not disabled or the child is not a full-time student. That regulation
further provides that a child may receive student's benefits beyond the age of eighteen
provided the child is disabled, or is a qualified full-time student who is not disabled.
If an individual attains the age of nineteen in a month of full-time attendance and
the school operates on a yearly basis, the student benefits terminate two months after
the individual turns age nineteen. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.352(b)(3); and POMS RS 00205.325 (When Student Benefits Terminate).
In order to be considered a full-time elementary or secondary student, an individual
must satisfy all of the conditions described in the federal regulation at 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.367. Paragraph (a) of that regulation defines "full-time student" as one who
is attending a school program that provides elementary or secondary education as determined
under the law of the state in which the school is located. That regulation further
provides that an individual may also satisfy the definition of full-time student if
1) the individual participates in instruction provided at home in accordance with
the home school law of the state in which the individual resides; or 2) an individual
is in an independent study elementary or secondary educational program in accordance
with the law of the state in which he resides that is administered by the local school
district. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)(1), (2).
Paragraph (b) of the regulation sets forth requirements for achieving the status of
full-time attendance in the three educational settings described above. The course
must be a non-correspondence course of at least thirteen weeks in duration, and the
individual must carry a subject load that is considered full-time for day students
under the institution's standards and practices. If the individual is in a home-schooling
program, the individual must carry a subject load that is considered full-time for
day students under the standards and practices set by the state. Paragraph (c) of
the regulation provides that to be in full-time attendance, an individual's scheduled
attendance must be at the rate of at least twenty hours per week.
In summary, for purposes of our analysis, because Freddie, a resident of Pennsylvania,
is attending a cyber charter school in Pennsylvania, that school must be approved
to provide elementary or secondary education by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,
the jurisdiction in which the school is located. Freddie must also show that the school
he attends considers him to be attending full-time based on the school's standards
and practices for day students, including carrying a subject load considered full-time
for day students, that he is enrolled in a course that is not a correspondence course
of at least thirteen weeks' duration at the rate of at least twenty hours a week.
20 C.F.R.§ 404.367; see also POMS RS 00205.300 (What is Full-Time Attendance (FTA)) , RS, 00205.330 (Correspondence Courses) and
RS0025.350 (Determining FTA).
Freddie Is Attending a School Providing Secondary Education As Determined by the Commonwealth
Although the text of your memorandum inquired as to whether the Cyber Charter "home
schooling" of Freddie meets requirements under the law of Pennsylvania" we believe
that, notwithstanding the fact that PALCS is an internet school and can be attended
by participating from home, there are significant features that distinguish PALCS
from home schooling. Freddie' cyber charter school experience is distinguishable from
home schooling (discussed in POMS at RS 00205.275) in that the Pennsylvania Department of Education approved cyber charter schools
as public schools, the parent is not primarily responsible for teaching the student
as evidenced by the description of the internet classes taught by teaches available
in the PALCS Handbook, and the Wyalusing Valley School District's Director of Special
Education, not the parent, signed as the certifying official on Form SSA-1372, Student's
Statement Regarding School Attendance. Therefore, our analysis will focus on whether
Freddie is attending a school that provides secondary education as determined under
the law of Pennsylvania. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a).
The most significant characteristic of PALCS for purposes of our analysis is that
it is a creature of the General Assembly, the legislative body of the Commonwealth
of Pennsylvania. The General Assembly enacted legislation in 1997 providing for a
process for approval of charter applications for existing public schools or new schools.
20 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1717-A. Effective July 4, 2004, the General Assembly included
"cyber charter schools" in the definition of charter school. 20 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann.
§ 17-1703-A. Moreover, the General Assembly, effective September 1, 2006, assigned
the responsibility for approving, issuing, and renewing educational charters to the
Pennsylvania Department of Education; that Department listed PALCS as a school that
provides secondary education for the school year 2006-07. See 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1741-A, and www.pde.state.pa.us. Further confirming
the PALCS' status as an approved school is the Report of Contact that you provided,
where Marilyn , the director of special education at the Wyalusing Area School District,
stated that the cyber charter school is recognized as an accredited educational alternative
by the Commonwealth, and that the Wyalusing district monitors Freddie' curriculum
and educational goal attainment through regular meetings with parents. Therefore,
the information that you provided indicates, in our view, that Freddie satisfies the
federal regulation requirement of attending "a school which provides elementary or
secondary education as determined under the law of the State . . . in which it is
located." 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a); POMS RS 00205.200A (What is An Educational Institution).
3. Freddie Is Attending A School that Provides a Full-Time Secondary Program and Is
Considered by that School to be Carrying a Subject Load that Is Full-Time for Day
Our research confirms that PALCS complies with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's
requirement for every secondary school, including a cyber charter school, that it
be open 180 days a year and in operation for 990 hours per year. See Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1715-A(9); 22 Pa. Code § 11.1, and PALCS Parent and Student
Handbook 2006-2007 (Handbook), available at www.PALCS.org as a link in the Frequently
Asked Questions section. Charter schools must report to the student's school district
of residence when a student has accrued three or more days of unexcused absences.
It is the responsibility of the school district to enforce the compulsory attendance
laws in accordance with the Pennsylvania Public School Code.
Although no daily hours of attendance are explicitly required by the Pennsylvania
statutes or code of regulations, the requirement of 990 hours of operation a year
represents a daily attendance rate requirement of 5.5 hours per day. There are no
stated hours of required daily connectivity in the information provided on the PALCS
website. However, a PALCS student is required to log on every day that the cyber school
is in session unless his absence is excused for the reasons stated in the Handbook.
A PALCS student is also required to complete courses that satisfy the Pennsylvania
requirements for graduation from a secondary school. See PALCS Handbook at 57.
According to your Report of Contact with Marilyn , on behalf of the Wyalusing Area
School District, which pays PALCS for the Special Education services provided to Freddie,
the school district considers Freddie to be in full-time attendance based on his verified
attendance at the PALCS of well over forty hours a week. You provided a log of hours
supplied by the PALCS indicating 454 hours of connectivity for Freddie from September
9, 2006 through January 10, 2007. Over this period of approximately fifteen weeks
that the cyber school was in session, Freddie was online more than thirty hours a
week. Your Report of Contact with Marjon of the PALCS indicates that these hours represent
only the time spent online, and do not include intervening time spent offline doing
examples, readings, and otherwise completing lessons. In addition, Marilyn indicated
that Freddie' school day actually approximates eight hours.
With respect to the regulatory requirement at 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b) that student
is "carrying a subject load which is considered full-time for day students under the
institution's standards and practices" we note that Marilyn monitored Freddie' course
work and his educational goals, and signed a statement to the effect that he was attending
school approximately forty hours a week. We believe that because she is charged with
oversight of his course work, and approved his course work as well as certified that
he was attending PALCS full-time, this action satisfies the requirement that a student
carry a course load consistent with that of a full-time day student at PALCS. See POMS RS 205.350 (stating that SSA policy is to accept the school official's statement
regarding full-time attendance).
Therefore, based on the information that you provided, we believe that Freddie has
complied with the standards and practices expected of a full-time student who attends
a Pennsylvania secondary school through December 6, 2006, the date that Marilyn signed
the Form SSA-1372. We recommend that you obtain further documentation of Freddie'
continued attendance since December 6, 2006 at PALCA on Form SSA-1372 .
4. Freddie is Enrolled in a Non-correspondence Course of at Least Thirteen Weeks'
Although the regulations do not define a correspondence course, the POMS at RS 00205.330 (What is Full-Time Attendance) define a 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."
We believe that the information that you provided, along with our additional research,
indicates that Freddie is not enrolled in a correspondence course. According to the
PALCS website, www.palcs.org, students who require Special Education are assigned
to Special Education teachers who work closely with families to monitor the progress
of students as they attend online classes. The teachers are in touch "constantly"
through email and telephone calls. At PALCS live teachers provide instruction in the
online classroom allowing students to attend class and do class work wherever they
can connect to the World Wide Web. PALCS utilizes fully interactive technology that
allows for live classroom instruction, interactive discussion online, and periodic
conferences for students. Therefore, this interactive educational experience is significantly
distinguishable from a traditional correspondence course described in the POMS as
a school that teaches by mailing lessons and exercises to the student.
Moreover, another feature that distinguishes the PALCS from a remote correspondence
course, is the fact, as Marilyn indicated in your Report of Contact on January 10,
2007, that the Wyalusing Area School District monitors Freddie' curriculum and educational
goal attainment, and approves his coursework. This additional oversight and involvement
of the local school district sets Freddie' educational program apart from a traditional
correspondence course. Therefore, we believe that Freddie' PALCS experience is not
that of a correspondence course as contemplated by the regulations or the POMS.
The information that you provided indicates that Freddie meets the requirement of
enrollment in a course of study that is of at least thirteen weeks' duration. The
POMS at RS 00205.315 (Duration of a Course of Study) clarify SSA policy that duration of a "course of
study" refers to the entire course of study (e.g., a four-year high school program),
and not the individual course offering or other segment of the entire course (i.e.,
a semester or summer session). Freddie' is enrolled in a secondary education school
that contemplates a four-year course of study ending in graduation. See PALCS Handbook. Therefore, Freddie attends a course that exceeds a duration of thirteen
weeks. Marjon indicated that Freddie is taking courses at the ninth grade level. The
fact that he will not graduate from high school before turning age nineteen does not
diminish the fact that he is enrolled in a course of study that exceeds thirteen weeks'
5. Freddie Meets the Attendance Requirement in 20 C.F.R.§ 404.357(c) of 20 Hours a
Although the federal regulation is silent as to the method of proving full-time attendance,
the POMS at RS 00205.350 (Determining FTA) instructs that Form SSA-1372 is to be used to verify full-time
attendance. The POMS provision specifies that the student must complete and sign page
two of the SSA-1372, then take the form to a school official for completion of the
"Certification by School Official" portion of the form on page two. The school official
must answer the questions and complete the signature line in the "Certification by
School Official" part of the form. If the school official answers "yes" to both questions
and completes the signature line, SSA considers the student's school attendance to
You provided a Form SSA-1372 completed by Freddie and Marilyn , Director of Special
Education in Wyalusing Valley School District, indicating that Freddie attends the
PALCS school thirty-five to forty hours a week. Because Marilyn , as a representative
of the local school district, has oversight of Freddie' participation in the PALCS,
we have no reason to question that this form can be relied upon to determine that
Freddie satisfies the federal requirement of attendance of at least twenty hours a
week. Furthermore, your report of contact with Marjon , an official of the PALCS,
supports the information provided on the SSA-1372 regarding Freddie ' attendance of
more than twenty hours per week. However, as previously noted, we recommend that you
obtain updated information regarding Freddie' attendance on Form SSA-1372 for the
period following December 6, 2006, when Marilyn signed the SSA-1372 that you provided
We believe that because Freddie (1) is attending PALCS, a cyber charter school that
provides secondary education and has been approved as such by the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania; (2) is attending PALCS full-time according to the school and the supervising
school district and consistent with the Pennsylvania requirements for day students;
(3) is not enrolled in a correspondence course; and because (4) his course exceeds
thirteen weeks in duration; and (5) he attends PALCS classes in excess of twenty hours
a week; he is entitled to student's benefits while attending the PALC charter school
provided that he continues to provide satisfactory documentation of full-time attendance.
Michael Mc Gaughran
Regional Chief Counsel
Patricia M. Smith
Assistant Regional Counsel