The question of whether or not a school has a duty to bus children from separate homes when the parents share custody is dependent upon several factors. Here's what the Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently explained:
In Wyland v. West Shore School District, No. 27 C.D. 2012, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania upheld the Cumberland County trial court's decision that a given school district (district one) is required to provide transportation for students residing in the father's home within district one during the father's custodial periods even though the children receive transportation from the mother's home outside of district one by buses in the mother's municipality (district two) during the mother's custodial periods. The parameters under which Wyland was upheld demonstrate the ruling to be less "landmark" than might be thought at first glance.
In the Wyland case, the parties' two children had been attending private school within district one and were historically provided with transportation to school, while the family was intact, in accordance with the Pennsylvania Public School Code (24 P.S. §13-1361). Upon separation, the mother moved into district two; custody was shared equally between the parties and the father remained in the marital home in district one. District two notified district one that it would provide transportation from the mother's house, at which point district one discontinued all transportation from the father's home, regardless of the father's custodial periods.
The father sought an injunction, filed a lawsuit and successfully pursued both matters. In upholding the trial court's ruling that district one is required to continue providing transportation from father's home during father's custodial periods, the superior court noted:
- The father's status in district one never changed.
- District one has eight buses dedicated to the private school the parties' children attend and would suffer no financial hardship in continuing to provide transportation from the father's home during his custodial periods.
- The plain language reading of the term "resident pupil," as used in the relevant Pennsylvania Public School Code, means "any lawfully enrolled student of a public or nonpublic school described therein who lives in the school district in question."
- The trial court was correct in not narrowing "residence" to mean "primary residence" or sole residence. Since the children in the subject case reside with each parent 50 percent of the time, they reside in two different districts.
- The so called "Single Residency Rule" that district one alleges is violated by transporting the children from the father's residence post-separation of the parents does not exist in common law or statutory law. While the Single Residency Rule may be a policy of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Department has no authority to implement policies that restricts a statute; in the instant matter, the Single Residency Rule policy impermissibly restricts 24 P.S. §13-1361.
Contrary to the assertions of district one, this will not open the floodgates by requiring school districts to cater to separated parents by providing transportation from multiple residences. The parameters under which the Wyland Court upheld the trial court's decision are narrow and specific. It is, however, interesting to note that the court does not conduct a cost-benefit analysis to assess the transportation mandate in Section 1361. Whether that proclamation leaves room for others to shoehorn their cases into the Wyland ruling remains to be seen.
The bottom line, however, is that many separated or divorced parents share equal physical custody of their children and school busing is often an issue. If this is a concern you have in a Bucks County custody matter, you should seek reputable family law counsel.