The Commonwealth Court has ruled that a school district is required under Pennsylvania law to provide a student whose parents are divorced or separated with bus transportation to and from separate stops near each parent's home.
A three-judge panel in Watts v. Manheim Township School District upheld a Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas judge's ruling, which issued a permanent injunction against Manheim Township School District and directed it to resume bus transportation for a student to and from both his mother's and father's homes.
While the school district had argued that it had no obligation under the state public school code to provide bus transportation to two residences within the same district, the court, led by Judge Robert Simpson, disagreed.
According to Judge Simpson, "A school district cannot fulfill its transportation obligation by merely designating one parent's residence as the sole bus stop without any consideration of the child's other residence. To conclude otherwise would deprive the child of free transportation during alternate periods of custody."
Judge Simpson was joined by Judge Anne E. Covey and Senior Judge James Gardner Colins.
In Watts, plaintiff Timothy L. Watts and his ex-wife live in separate residences within Manheim Township School District and share equal custody of their son, C.W., who is in middle school.
Under their custody agreement, C.W. spends alternating weeks with each parent. For the 2012-13 school year, the school district began refusing, as a cost-cutting measure, to continue providing students with transportation to and from multiple locations, according to Judge Simpson.
While the district continued providing transportation for C.W. to and from his mother's home, it stopped providing transportation to and from Mr. Watts' residence.
Because Mr. Watts' job prevented him from driving his son to school and his ex-wife's home is about two miles away from his residence, Mr. Watts was forced to hire someone to take C.W. to school during the weeks he had custody.
Judge Simpson said that while the school district has a bus route that serves Mr. Watts' neighborhood and could pick up C.W. without adding an extra stop, Mr. Watts attempted to no avail to convince school district administration to resume bus service to a stop near his home.
Mr. Watts sued the school district, seeking a permanent injunction. Following a hearing, the trial judge granted the request for a preliminary injunction -- later amended by granting a permanent injunction -- and ordered the school district to resume busing services to and from both of C.W.'s parents' homes.
But the school district appealed the decision, arguing that by busing C.W. to and from a stop near his mother's home, it was fulfilling its statutory duty under Section 1362 to provide transportation to a resident pupil.
The school district further argued on appeal that it was within its discretion to decide not to provide busing services to multiple residences for a single student.
Judge Simpson, however, disagreed with both points, saying that under Section 1361 of the School Code school districts are required to provide transportation to resident pupils, while Section 1362 prohibits school districts from forcing students to travel more than a mile-and-a-half from their homes to the bus stop.
Zack Needles: firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-557-2493. Read more stories like this at www.legalintelligencer.com.