As school starts all over the state, buses will be rolling to transport students to and from class. But what happens if the child has two different homes? In their August 25 decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that school districts must transport students to and from more than one residence in certain situations.
The divorced parents of the student in this case have a 50/50 joint custody agreement under which the student resides with each parent on an alternating week schedule. Both parents reside in the District. Prior to the 2010-11 school year, the District provided transportation for all students to multiple locations including multiple parents’ residences and daycare facilities. Beginning in 2010, the District changed its transportation policy to allow transportation to a single location per student, although it continued to transport this student to both parent’s residences.
Over the summer of 2012, the District notified the parents that it would transport the student only to the mother’s residence. After the School Board refused to change its mind, the student’s father petition the Court of Common Pleas for an injunction to require the District to transport to and from both parents’ residences. The trial court and the Commonwealth Court each ordered the District to transport to and from the residences of both parents. On August 25, 2015, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed.
What the Court Said
The Court discussed in detail the several School Code sections that address residency and transportation. Of specific importance to the Court was the requirement under PDE regulations that parents residing in separate districts who share custody to select one district for purposes of enrollment. Transportation must be provided by the district in which the student enrolls. There is no parallel requirement for parents sharing custody within a single district to select one residence for any purpose. Thus, the Court concluded that a decision not to provide transportation to and from father’s residence would result in the student not attending school half the time.
In reaching this conclusion, the Court noted that transportation is required only to a student’s residence, and is not required to or from other locations such as daycare centers. Previous decisions of the Commonwealth Court established that where parents residing in different district share custody during the school week, school districts must transport students to either or both residences. Those holdings are untouched by the current decision. The Court did not address concerns presented by the school district, including the potential for frequent changes to a custody schedule, or whether and how to address shared custody arrangements that are not reduced to an order of court.
School districts must provide transportation to and from each student’s residence. Where a student resides with more than one parent during the school week, districts must provide transportation to both residences. This ruling is limited to students whose residences are both within the boundaries of the district. However, the decision leaves undisturbed previous Commonwealth Court decisions that required transportation to residences in other districts. Further, although this decision acknowledges that the student resides in two different locations, the Court specifically declined to determine whether a student can have two residences. Because the student’s parents both lived in the same district, the Court did not find it necessary to address this issue.
School districts should contact their solicitors to ensure that their transportation policy and practices are consistent with this decision.
School Law Bullets are a publication of the school law attorneys of KingSpry’s Education Law Practice Group. John E. Freund, III, is our editor. The article is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.