No. 1895 Philadelphia, 1981, Appeal from Orders and Judgments of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, of Cumberland County, No. 824 of 1980
Thomas W. Scott, Harrisburg, for appellants.
Richard C. Snelbaker, Assistant District Attorney, Mechanicsburg, for Commonwealth, appellee.
Wieand, Cirillo and Popovich, JJ.
[ 309 Pa. Super. Page 409]
John and Sherrie Hall have appealed from judgments of sentence imposed following convictions on four counts of truancy for violating the Compulsory School Attendance Law. They have appealed in order to challenge the validity of an educational trip policy established by the Cumberland Valley School District. Finding the policy valid, we affirm the judgments of sentence.
Appellants are the parents of four school-age children who were enrolled during the 1979-1980 academic year in schools within the Cumberland Valley School District. As a result of an extended Christmas holiday in the Caribbean and a long weekend trip to New England in February, all four children had accumulated three unexcused absences from school. Accordingly, appellants were notified, pursuant to the Public School Code of 1949, Act of March 10, 1949, P.L. 30, Art. XIII, § 1333, as amended, 24 P.S. § 13-1333,*fn1 that further unexcused absences would result
[ 309 Pa. Super. Page 410]
in the institution of summary criminal proceedings against them. In March of 1980, in accordance with the procedure outlined in the Cumberland Valley School District's attendance regulations,*fn2 appellants sought and received permission for their children to be excused from school to accompany them on an "educational trip" to Washington, D.C. The children's absences on this occasion were recorded as excused. Later in March of the same year, appellants again requested permission to remove their children from school for an additional three days, this time for an asserted "educational trip" to Europe. Authorization for these absences was not forthcoming because the District's written policy provided for only " one educational trip per school year, not to exceed five (5) school days." (Emphasis added.) Because their children had previously been excused for a trip to Washington, D.C., the District's policy precluded an additional "educational" absence. Appellants made the trip, nevertheless, and removed their children from school without excuse. As a result, appellants were charged with violating the School Code. Convicted in a summary proceeding, appellants took an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County. Following trial de novo before the Honorable Harold E. Sheeley, appellants were again found guilty. Post verdict motions were denied, appellants were sentenced to pay four fines of $2.00 each, plus costs, and this appeal followed.
In order to comply with the mandate of the state Constitution to maintain "a thorough and efficient system
[ 309 Pa. Super. Page 411]
of public education," Constitution, Art. III, sect. 14, the General Assembly, in the Public School Code, has prescribed only general rules and standards for the conduct of the educational system; and the State Board of Education has been empowered to "adopt broad policies and principles and establish standards governing the educational programs of the Commonwealth." 22 Pa.Code § 1.2. However, it is the school districts which are the agencies of the state legislature to administer this constitutional mandate to maintain "'a thorough and efficient system of public schools.'" Pittsburgh School District v. Allegheny County, 347 Pa. 101, 104, 31 A.2d 707, 708 (1943) citing Wilson, et ux. v. Philadelphia School District, et al., 328 Pa. 225, 231, 195 A. 90, 94 (1937). Local school boards are responsible for administering the individual school systems and, to that end, may adopt such reasonable rules and regulations as are necessary and proper for the management of school affairs. See: Act of March 10, 1949, P.L. 30, Art. V, § 510, 24 P.S. § 5-510.
"[W]hen one attacks the action of a school board concerning matters committed by law to its discretion, he has a heavy burden as the courts are not prone to disturb a school board's decision. Indeed, they are without jurisdiction to interfere therewith unless it is apparent that the school board's conduct is arbitrary, capricious and to the prejudice of public interest. Lack of wisdom or mistaken judgment is insufficient." Farris v. Swetts, 158 Pa. Super. 645, 648, 46 A.2d 504, 505 (1946). In short, the courts of this Commonwealth are not "super" school boards with superior knowledge concerning the administration of the public schools or the science of pedagogics. McCoy v. Lincoln Intermediate Unit No. 12, 38 Pa. Commw. 29, 36, 391 A.2d 1119, 1123 (1978), cert. denied, 441 U.S. 923, 99 S.Ct. 2033, 60 L.Ed.2d 397 (1979). See also: Zebra v. ...