School Districts must provide Transportation for Shared Custody Arrangements

On August 26, 2015, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Watts v. Manheim Township, held that the Manheim Township School District was required to provide transportation from both residences’ of a child in a shared custody arrangement, if that child was also a resident pupil of the school district.

The Father in this case shared legal and physical custody of the Child with Mother on an alternating week basis pursuant to a Court order. Both Mother and Father resided in Manheim Township School District where the child attended public middle school. The Court reached its determination by examining the School Code and the purpose of mandating mandatory pick-up of resident pupil children – basically that the children get to school as it is in their best interest to attend school.

The practical effects for custodial disputes seem to be positive. First, if the parties live within the same school district and share custody, then the school district will have to bus the children from Mother or Father’s home depending on the day. Clearly, this will take planning on the parents’ part to make sure their custodial schedules are spelled out in a way that the school districts can make proper arrangements. Second, the child will have stability in their shared schedule and will be able to adequately prepare in advance where they are going to leave for school.

However, there are questions that still remain to be unanswered. In the Watts, Father lived only 4 ½ miles from the child’s school and Mother lived about 5 ½ miles. What if there are multiple middle schools in the affected School District? What if Father’s home is in one Middle School’s territory, in the same school district; and Mother’s home is in another Middle School’s territory, in the same school district? If the parties agree that child’s school is in Father’s territory, does it follow that the school district must provide transportation to that middle school from Mother’s residence to the Middle School in Father’s territory?

The Watts case seems to answer some questions, and leave other wide open. Only time will tell how this plays out in practical application.

Categories: Child Custody