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September 10, 2012

On the Case:

Social Security Finally Agrees: Accreditation Not a Requirement for Montana Homeschools

Staff Attorney Darren Jones is a member of HSLDA’s litigation team. He and his wife homeschool.

This summer, homeschool graduate Christina Colster (names changed to protect privacy) received an answer she had waited for her entire senior year: Social Security recognized that she was a homeschooled student and awarded her benefits previously denied.

Until her 18th birthday in September 2011, Christina received child benefits through her mother’s disability benefits. Because she was a student, she was eligible to continue receiving the benefits until her graduation in June 2012, according to Social Security guidelines.

Since the Social Security officials at Christina’s local office were unfamiliar with their own policy and Montana homeschool law, they discontinued her benefits after she turned 18. Despite some states, such as Montana, having low regulation of homeschool families, local Social Security offices occasionally discriminate against homeschool students and deny their benefits.

The Colsters appealed for Christina’s benefits and lost. The decision they received stated, “Your home school was … not accredited.” The Social Security officials incorrectly believed that homeschools in Montana had to be accredited in order for homeschool students to be eligible for benefits.

At this point, the Colster family contacted Home School Legal Defense Association. HSLDA’s litigation team appealed Christina’s case to the next level, seeking a hearing before an administrative judge. We submitted proof that Christina was homeschooling in compliance with Montana state law. Most importantly, we disputed the claim that homeschools had to be accredited.

Fortunately, the Social Security judge agreed fully with HSLDA’s arguments without even scheduling a hearing. He chastised the previous decision, stating, “The district office falsely assumed that the home school program had to be accredited with the State of Montana.” Although Christina had already graduated by the time the decision was made, the judge awarded her all the benefits she should have received from her 18th birthday through her high school graduation.

“To get a good decision like this from the Social Security judge is very heartening,” said Darren Jones, an HSLDA litigation attorney. “It sets a precedent that should help other homeschooling families in similar circumstances.”