A Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling earlier this month mandates the school districts must transport students to and from the respective homes of both parents if they are separated and sharing custody.
In Watts v. Manheim Central School District, Timothy L. Watts, parent of a student at Manheim Township Middle School identified as “CW”, shares equally divided legal and physical custody of the student by court order with the child’s mother, his ex-wife. As School Transportation News reports, the two parents live within two miles of each other, but along different bus routes within the Manheim Central School District.
Up until the 2011-2012 school year, the district had provided transportation to and from multiple locations for specific students, including those whose parents are separated. However, before the start of the following school year, the school board decided to change practices to reduce transportation costs by no longer transporting students to and from multiple students.
It is estimated the decision impacted approximately 400 students, but it also saved the district approximately $200,000 annually.
Following this decision, Watts was notified the district would no longer transport CW to and from his home for the 2012-2013 school year. Instead, they would only transport the student to and from the mother’s home because that was the primary address on file at the school.
Court documents show CW’s middle school had bus routes serving Watts’ neighborhood.
In his efforts to get transportation to both locations reinstated for CW, Watts has contacted the school district, appeared to the school board, and wrote to the school district solicitor before turning to the courts. He said he could not drive his child to school because of his work, and the mother’s home was two miles from his which would force his child to walk through a heavily trafficked highway in order to get to the bus stop near the mother’s house.
After his complaints fell on deaf ears, Watts then filed a complaint seeking injunctive relief mandating the school to transport CW to both homes. The trial court decided the school district was statutorily required to transport CW to and from the school to the home of both parents.
The court cited Wyland v. West Shore School District, 52 A.3d 572 in reaching the decision, stating:
“Under Wyland, a student who is subject to an equally split shared physical custody agreement can be a resident pupil of more than one school district. Based upon the Wyland court’s reasoning, it is only logical to conclude that C.W. can maintain two residences within a single district.”
The decision was appealed by the school district in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, arguing that per the school code students could not list more than one residence. The argument was ineffective as the court upheld the lower court’s decision, citing regulations and case law indicating that students whose parents reside in areas served by different school districts are entitled to attend either one.