Multiple Bus Stops for Students with Multiple “Residences”January 15, 2014 – Alerts Education Alert
Updated October 2, 2014
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court’s newest student transportation decision is potentially costly news to school districts trying to save money on busing.
Back in 2012, the Commonwealth Court decided the Wyland¹ case. There, the court expanded on a 1985 ruling to find that – at least for transportation purposes – a student may have more than one residence necessitating more than one bus stop. The Wyland case involved parents living in different districts who each had 50 percent custody of a private school student. There, the court found that once a district agrees to provide transportation services, it must agree to provide identical services to resident private school students even where those students’ “primary residence” is elsewhere. This remained true even where that other district of primary residence was also providing transportation.
The upshot of the Wyland case was that the father’s district had to provide busing between the school and the father’s house, and the mother’s district had to provide busing between the school and the mother’s house.
Building on that 2012 case, a Commonwealth Court panel decided the Watts² case on January 7, 2014. This time, the court determined that where parents of a public school student are separated but living within the same school district, the district may have to provide transportation to both parents’ residences.
Much like in Wyland, the parents in the Watts matter also each had 50 percent physical custody, but it is not clear if that was relevant to the findings in either case. The rationale used in those cases could just as easily apply to one where one parent had greater physical custody than the other. That the parents in Watts lived approximately two miles apart was clearly relevant, since the court found that a bus stop could only be up to one and a half miles (along a safely traveled public road) from the residence.³
This new case clearly allows anyone in the same situation as the Watts family to demand that their district consider multiple bus stops. But it is not clear whether someone with less than 50 percent custody can make that same demand. A district would be well served to review all the facts and options with its solicitor prior to deciding that issue one way or another.
The Manheim School District may still ask for the whole Commonwealth Court to re-hear the matter, and it may ask the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to take the matter on appeal. However, neither court is required to grant such requests, and for now this decision establishes the current law on this subject.
Update: On September 12, 2014, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepted the Watts case on appeal with the district’s proposed questions:
- Does the Public School Code of 1949 require the Manheim Township School District to provide transportation services to a resident pupil to and from more than one location within the school district?
- Did the Commonwealth Court err in interpreting In re Residence Hearing Before Bd. of Sch. Dir., Cumberland Valley Sch. Dist., 744 A.2d 1272 (Pa. 2000), to mean that a child can have more than one residence for school purposes, including transportation services under Section 1361 of the Public School Code of 1949?
We can read the court’s acceptance of these questions as a signal that the Commonwealth Court did not get it quite right, but until the Supreme Court issues its decision, the Commonwealth Court’s decision remains the law.
¹Wyland v. West Shore School District, 52 A.3d 572 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2012).
²Watts v. Manheim Township School District, 935 C.D. 2013 (Pa. Cmwlth. January 2014), authored by Judge Simpson, who also authored Wyland.
³See 24 P.S. §13-1362 (setting maximum distance from residence to bus stop along public roads).