Court Teaches School a Lesson On Residences and Buses
In the recent landmark case of Watts v. Manheim Tp. School Dist., 84 A.3d 378 (Pa.Cmwlth.2014), the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has established what rights a child, who is subject to a custody order, has to bus service to his local public school.
In Watts the Plaintiff was a father who equally shared legal and physical custody of his son (“Child”) with the Child’s mother (“Mother”). Both Plaintiff and Mother lived in the same school district (“Defendant”) and both lived in similar proximity to an established school district bus route. Plaintiff requested Defendant to send the school district’s school bus service to pick up and drop off the Child at both his home and Mother’s home according the custody arrangements laid out in Plaintiff and Mother’s custody order regarding the Child. In the school years immediately prior to the one at issue in Watts, Defendant allowed school buses to go to multiple addresses to pick up a child, but, as a cost cutting measure, it slowly eliminated that service. By the time Plaintiff requested the bus service go to both his and Mother’s house to pick up and drop off the Child, Defendant refused to accommodate Plaintiff’s request indicating that its policy was that each child may only have one official residence at which he may be picked up and dropped off by a school district bus. In response, Plaintiff filed a complaint and for an injunction seeking a writ of mandamus to compel Defendant to provide bus service to both Plaintiff’s home and Mother’s home for the Child. Plaintiff was successful at the trial court level which led to Defendant’s appeal to the Commonwealth Court whose opinion is the subject of this article. One of the central issues in this case is determining where the Child’s residence is located for the purpose of school bus service as a child is entitled to be picked up and dropped off at his residence.
The Defendant argued that how school bus transportation is implemented is within its discretion according to the School Code (24 P.S. Section 13-1362 et seq.) and, therefore, its decision to limit school bus stops to one residence per child is consistent with that discretion. Defendant further argued that it was under no specific duty to transport children to multiple residences and that by transporting the Child to and from his Mother’s home only (as opposed to both Plaintiff and Mother’s homes), it has met its statutory obligation to provide bus transportation to the Child. Plaintiff emphasized that, per the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the term “residence” does not necessarily denote primary domicile and that the law requires Defendant provide transportation between the school and a child’s residences without specificity that it is to be only one residence per child. Indeed, case law (namely Wyland v. West Shore School District, 52 A.3d 572 (Pa.Cmwlth.2012)) clearly indicates that a child can have more than one residence for the purposes of the School Code.
The Court ruled that the School Code requires school districts, like Defendant, to provide transportation to and from school from a child’s residence or a bus stop within one and one-half miles from that residence. The Court further ruled, on the strength of Wyland, that a student in a school district may have two legal residences and that the Child did, indeed, have two residences in the instant case (Mother’s home is two miles from Plaintiff’s and outside the one and one-half mile radius described above). Consequently, the Court asserted that Defendant, by refusing to provide transportation to and from Plaintiff’s home for the Child, is depriving the Child from receiving the transportation to which he is entitled to his residence, even if he has another legal residence as well.
As a result, the Court ruled in favor of the Plaintiff and ordered the Defendant to provide bus transportation to and from both Plaintiff and Mother’s homes to pick up and drop off the Child for school according to the arrangement laid out in Plaintiff and Mother’s custody order.
Originally published in Upon Further Review on September 18, 2014 and can be seen here.