You asked whether iForward – Wisconsin’s Online Charter School (iForward), an online
charter school located in Wisconsin, may be considered an educational institution
(EI) for purposes of awarding child insurance benefits.
For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that iForward qualifies as an educational
institution for the purpose of awarding child insurance benefits. We further conclude
that claimant meets the requirements for full-time attendance. 
The claimant, Autumn, is seeking child insurance benefits (CIB) due to her status
as a full-time student at iForward. With her application, the claimant submitted Form
SSA-1372-BK indicating that she was scheduled to attend iForward full-time (30 - 40
hours per week) since September 2013, and that she expected to graduate in June 2015.
The SSA 1372-BK was certified by iForward Principal Billy on February 17, 2014. Billy
certified that the information provided by the claimant was correct, and that the
school’s course of study was at least 13 weeks in duration.
The field office completed a Report of Contact indicating that an employee contacted
Michelle of iForward in March 2014. At that time, Michelle advised that iForward offers
core and elective classes, and that a state high school diploma is received at graduation.
With regards to attendance, Michelle indicated that iForward monitors the time the
students spend online, teachers take attendance in the online classrooms, and spreadsheets
are kept for attendance records.
The Social Security Act (Act) provides for the payment of CIB to certain children
of individuals who are entitled to old-age or disability insurance benefits or who
died as fully or currently insured individuals. See Section 202(d)(1) of Act. As relevant here, 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. See Section 202(d)(1)(B) of the Act; 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(1)(5). If the claimant is not
under a disability, benefits terminate when he turns 19 years old, regardless of his
educational status. See Section 202(d)(1)(F)(ii) of the Act.
“Elementary or secondary school” is defined as “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.” Section 202(d)(7)(C)(i) of the Act; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a). The POMS refers to such a school as an “educational institution.”
See POMS RS 00205.200A. Under the POMS, it is generally assumed that American public schools are EIs, absent
evidence to the contrary; a non-public school cannot be assumed to be an EI. See POMS RS 00205.250B.
In order to count as a qualifying educational institution for purposes of awarding
CIB,, the institution must provide a secondary 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). It does not matter if the school is online, so long as the school meets state
law requirements. See POMS RS 00205.295.
POMS RS 00205.295 sets forth agency policy with respect to online schools. It defines an online school
as “one that offers Internet-based courses to students.” POMS RS 00205.295A. A child attending an online school may be a full-time student if: (1) the student
meets the standards for full-time attendance as defined in RS 00205.300, and (2) the online school operates in accordance with the law of the state in which
the online school is located. See POMS RS 00205.295B.
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, as determined
by the Commissioner of Social Security by regulation. See Section 202(d)(7)(a) of the Act; see also 20 C.F.R. §404.367.
iForward Is An Educational Institution
As noted above, to be considered an educational institution, a school must provide
elementary or secondary school education as determined under the law of the state
or other jurisdiction in which it is located. See Section 202(d)(7)(C)(i) of the Act; 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a); POMS RS 00205.200A. iForward is based in the state of Wisconsin. Therefore, it is necessary to examine
Wisconsin law to determine whether iForward is an EI.
Wisconsin statutes expressly define and govern “virtual charter schools.” See Wis. Stat. §118.40(8). Under the statute, a virtual charter school is defined as a
charter school under contract with a school board under Wis. Stat. §118.40 in which
all or a portion of the instruction is provided through means of the Internet, and
the pupils enrolled in and instructional staff employed by the school are geographically
remote from each other. Wis. Stat. §§115.001, 118.40(8). If a school board contracts
to establish a virtual charter school, that virtual charter school is considered to
be located in the school district governed by that school board. Id. In this case, iForward is operated as a public virtual charter school under contract
with the Grantsburg, Wisconsin district school board. See Grantsburg Schools District website (available at http://www.gk12.net/se3bin/clientschool.cgi?schoolname=school207 (last accessed April 16, 2014). Students wishing to apply to iForward must apply
through the Grantsburg school district. See Wis. Stat. § 115.001, et seq.; Wisconsin Charter Schools Yearbook, 2013-14 (available at http://sms.dpi.wi.gov/files/sms/pdf/2013-14yearbook.pdf (last visited April 16, 2014)); Wisconsin Open Enrollment Application Process (available
at https://apps4.dpi.wi.gov/Opal2012/FAQs.aspx (last visited April 16, 2014)).
Because iForward is a public school, we assume it is an EI unless there is evidence
to the contrary. See POMS RS 00205.250B. In this case, there is no evidence contrary to iForward’s presumed nature as an EI.
Each school year, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (Wisconsin DPI) publishes
a “Charter Schools Yearbook” that identifies public charter schools in the State of
Wisconsin that meet the statutory requirements, and that are authorized to enroll
students under Wisconsin’s open enrollment procedures. iForward is included in the
Wisconsin DPI Charter Schools Yearbook as a public virtual charter school operated
by the Grantsburg School District, as a provider of education for grades 6-12. See http://sms.dpi.wi.gov/files/sms/pdf/2013-14yearbook.pdf. To be included in the yearbook, each academic year, all public virtual charter schools
must certify to the Wisconsin DPI that the school meets the requirements of Wis. Stats.
§§115.001 (16) and 118.40 (8). See Wisconsin DPI School District Virtual Charter School Identification Form (available
at http://sms.dpi.wi.gov/files/sms/pdf/2014-15%20VCS%20Identification%20Form.pdf) (last visited April 16, 2014). iForward’s inclusion in the Charter Schools Yearbook
confirms compliance with the statutory and regulatory requirements set forth by the
State of Wisconsin.
Based on the foregoing, we conclude that iForward qualifies as an EI for purposes
of awarding Child Insurance Benefits. The information available on iForward’s website,
the Grantsburg School District website, and the Wisconsin DPI website demonstrate
that iForward operates in compliance with Wisconsin law, and accordingly, that it
meets the requirements of an EI for purposes of awarding child insurance benefits.
For the reasons discussed above, we find that iForward-Wisconsin’s Online Charter
School qualifies as an educational institution, as sufficient evidence indicates that
it is an institution that provides an education “as determined under the law of the
State” of Wisconsin. In addition, we find that the claimant meets both the federal
and state attendance requirements.
Donna L. Calvert
Regional Chief Counsel