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On August 26, 2015, in the case of Watts v. Manheim Township School District, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a school district must provide transportation to students whose parents live at different residences within the same school district.

In recent years the Manheim Township School District instituted changes in its transportation policy which included eliminating transportation to and from more than one location per student, expanding the number of students required to walk to school, and increasing the route efficiency of its busses. The combined effect of these changes reduced the bus fleet by four busses, saving the school district approximately $200,000 per year.

In this case, mother and father have shared legal and physical custody of their son.  Pursuant to a court order the parties alternate custody on a weekly basis. Both father and mother reside within the school district where the child attends public middle school. Father’s residence is approximately 4½ miles from the school and mother’s residence is approximately 5½ miles from the school.  The parties live approximately 2 miles from one another.

Despite the shared custody schedule the school paperwork listed mother’s residence as the default address for the child.  The district advised father that the child could not ride the bus to and from father’s home to school even though bus transportation was available from father’s home.  The district contended that a child can only have one residence under the school code, and therefore they were only required to provide transportation to and from one residence.  The school district suggested that father take the child to the bus stop at mother’s residence.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected the school district’s argument.  The Court reasoned that the school district elected to provide transportation to students’ residences under the school code.  The school district would have been required to provide transportation from both father and mother residence if each of those residences were listed as the primary residence for the child.  The school code also provides that no student is required to walk more than 1½ miles from their residence to the bus stop.  Since the child has two residences by virtue of his parents’ equally shared physical custody and there is no provision requiring parents to choose a residence for transportation purposes, and since students cannot be required to travel more than 1½ miles from their residence to the bus stop, the school district must provide transportation to and from school to both of his residences.

Should you have questions about custody law please feel free to contact Giribaldi & Manaras, P.C. at (610)891-8303.