The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a ruling from the Commonwealth Court that stated that school districts must transport students to and from the respective homes of each parent if they are separated and sharing custody.
In Watts v. Manheim Central School District, Timothy L. Watts, the parent of “CW,” a student at Manheim Township Middle School, shares equally divided legal and physical custody of the child by court order with the child’s mother, his ex-wife. The two parents live within two miles of each other, both within the Manheim Central School District but along different bus routes.
Prior to the 2011-2012 school year, the school district provided transportation to and from multiple locations to particular students, including those with parents who are separated. Before the start of the following school year, the school board decided to reduce transportation costs by no longer transporting students to and from multiple locations, a decision that affected approximately 400 students but also saved approximately $200,000 annually.
The district informed Watts that it would no longer transport CW to and from his home for the 2012-2013 school year, only from the mother’s home because that was the primary address the school had on file.
According to court documents, CW’s middle school had a bus route that serves Watts' neighborhood.
In an attempt to have busing services reinstated to and from his home, Watts then contacted the school district, appeared before the school board and wrote to the school district solicitor. He argued that he could not drive his child to school because of work, and that the mother’s home was two miles from his. This would require the child to walk through a heavily trafficked highway in order to get to the bus stop near the mother’s house on days the child was staying with Watts.
Watts then filed a complaint seeking injunctive relief to require the district transport CW to both homes. The trial court determined that the school district was statutorily required to transport CW to and from the school to the homes 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 school district then appealed the decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, arguing that per the school code students could not list more than one residence. The state Supreme Court then upheld the decision of the lower court after consideration of regulations and case law that stated that a student whose parents reside in areas served by different school districts are entitled to attend either one.