Pupil Transportation • “Resident Pupils”
Watts v. Manheim Township Sch. Dist.., PICS Case No. 14-0027(Pa. Commw. Jan. 7, 2014) Simpson, J. (26 pages).
Lancaster County Common Pleas Court correctly ordered the Manheim Township School District to provide bus services for C.W. from Timothy Watts’ residence to the Manheim Township Middle School, despite the school system’s contention that it was not required to provide transportation to a resident pupil to and from two different residences in the same school district. Affirmed.
Watts and his ex-wife share equally divided physical and legal custody of C.W. Both parents reside in the same school district, but on different bus routes. Prior to the 20011-2012 school year, the district provided transportation to eligible students to and from multiple locations, including different residences of divorced parents. During the 2011-2012 school year, the district approved cost cutting measures that included eliminating transportation of pupils to and from multiple locations. The district did not enforce the rule during that school year, but informed C.W.’s parents that the bus stop for C.W. for the 2012-2013 school year would be his mother’s residence.
The school district has a bus route that serves Watt’s neighborhood, has unassigned seats and could accommodate C.W. without adding an extra stop. Watt’s employment prevents him from driving C.W. to school and C.W. would have to walk 2 miles to reach his approved stop.
The trial court determined that the fact that Watts maintains a residence in the school district was sufficient to confer resident pupil status on C.W. Watts did not need to demonstrate that his home is C.W.’s primary residence or domicile. The court held that the district was statutorily required to provide transportation for C. W. to and from both parents’ homes. The court limited the order to circumstances where both parents lived in the school district, the student was subject to an equally split joint legal and physical custody agreement and a bus already served both homes and could accommodate the student without further cost or adding an extra stop.
The school district contended that the law merely requires the district to provide transportation, which it was doing. The decision to limit transportation to only one location falls within its permitted discretion and it is under no duty to accommodate the particular, varying and changing domestic arrangements made by pupils’ parents and guardians.
The courts have held that a child can have more than one residence for purposes of the School Code. A pupil need only live with a custodial parent in a school district to trigger the district’s duty to transport the pupil. Section 1361 of the School Code, when read in conjunction with Sections 1362 and 1366, requires school districts to provide transportation services to and from a child’s residence. Since a child can have more than one legal residence under the school code, the school district must provide transportation accommodating the multiple residences. A school district cannot fulfill its transportation obligation by merely designating one parent’s residence as the sole bus stop. While a school district has discretion in deciding how to implement transportation services, it does not have the discretion to ignore a statutory mandate.