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April 14, 2015

No Disparate Treatment

Social Security Restores Benefits to Two Homeschooling Families

Peter Kamakawiwoole Staff Attorney Peter Kamakawiwoole is a member of HSLDA’s litigation team. He is married and the father of three small children.

Last month, HSLDA successfully persuaded the Social Security Administration to treat two homeschooled students the same as their traditionally schooled counterparts.

As the homeschooling movement grows, an increasing number of families are running into difficulty receiving benefits for their homeschooled children from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The Social Security Administration pays out “student benefits” to full-time students who have a deceased parent or a parent who is receiving disability income.

Normally, these benefits end when a child turns 18, but a student who is still in high school can collect benefits even after his or her 18th birthday.

While it is easy to collect these student benefits for children in traditional schools, homeschoolers have had more challenges. The Social Security Administration is homeschool-friendly at the national level, but problems arise because local offices are often unaware that homeschoolers are eligible for benefits.

Two Victories

In the first case, a homeschooled high school senior was contacted by her local Social Security office in Kansas and told that her benefits would cease when she turned 18 because she was not a full-time high school student. The student and her parent submitted paperwork to the local office that showed that the student was enrolled in a homeschool that was recognized as a private school by the state of Kansas. When more than two months passed without response, the family contacted HSLDA for help.

HSLDA Staff Attorney Peter Kamakawiwoole wrote a letter to the local office, which explained that the student was enrolled full time in a homeschool that satisfied Kansas law, and that she was entitled to benefits until she graduated.

HSLDA encouraged the Social Security office to act quickly, to recognize that the student should be treated the same as any other high school senior, and to restore the benefits. The benefits were restored to the family shortly afterwards.

In the second case, the local office was less accommodating. Another homeschooled high school senior—this time in Texas—was told that her benefits would not be extended. Even though the student’s parent submitted evidence that she was homeschooling in compliance with Texas law, the local office mistakenly thought that the student was enrolled in a correspondence school, because the family received some of their curriculum and educational materials from an online school.

HSLDA tried to explain to the local office that parents in Texas have the freedom to select any educational materials that they want when they choose to homeschool, and that the parent was involved in administering tests, assignments, and lessons.

When the local office refused to budge, HSLDA assisted the family in obtaining a hearing before an administrative law judge. HSLDA Staff Attorney Peter Kamakawiwoole attended the hearing to represent the family and also prepared a legal brief outlining the reasons why the local office had wrongly decided to withhold the benefits. At the hearing, the administrative law judge thanked HSLDA for preparing the brief, and overturned the decision of the local office in a hearing that lasted just over five minutes.

Navigating the Bureaucracy

While HSLDA takes a neutral position on Social Security benefits, we realize that many of our members are assisted by such payments. Homeschooling your children has enough challenges without having to navigate the bureaucracy of the SSA.

Because of our years of involvement with the homeschooling movement, HSLDA is able to assist our members in a broad array of homeschooling related issues, Social Security and Department of Veteran’s Affairs benefits being merely one example. Each year, HSLDA handles dozens of these cases for homeschooling families at no cost to them. Normally, attorneys who handle Social Security appeals are eligible to collect up to 25% of the recovery in attorney fees. This is just one example of the small—but significant—ways HSLDA assists our member families.

Visit HSLDA’s website for more information on Social Security benefits and homeschooling. If you are a member and need personal assistance in working with the Social Security Administration, please contact HSLDA.

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