A case decided in January by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court highlights a practical issue for many divorced parents with shared custody arrangements.
As reported in The Legal Intelligencer, the case of Watts v. Manheim Township School District involved divorced parents who resided two miles apart in the same school district and shared equal custody time with their son. Beginning in the 2012-2013 school year, the school district implemented a policy of providing bus transportation for students to only one residence. In Watts, the school district provided transportation to and from the mother’s residence, but not the father’s residence. After attempting an out-of-court resolution, the father filed a complaint against the school district.
Subsequently, the trial court granted an injunction requiring the school district to bus the father’s son to both parents’ houses. The Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court and held that school districts in Pennsylvania must provide bus services to students who have two residences in the same district.
In reaching its decision, the Commonwealth Court looked to Section 1361 of Pennsylvania’s School Code, which requires a school district to provide transportation to resident pupils, and Section 1362, which requires that a school district provide a bus stop to a student within one-and-a-half miles of the child’s residence. Therefore, if a student resides with both parents, the court held, the district must provide a bus stop within one-and-half miles of each parent’s home.
The court’s decision in Watts has potential to affect family court decisions. In custody cases, judges consider whether each parent will be able to take the child to school. Now that school districts have to transport children to both parents’ homes in the same district, courts should not have to consider whether one parent has alternate transportation available. This may open the door to more shared custody orders.