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Scott T. Wyland v. West Shore School District

September 14, 2012

SCOTT T. WYLAND
v.
WEST SHORE SCHOOL DISTRICT, APPELLANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert Simpson, Judge

Submitted: June 15, 2012

BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge

OPINION BY JUDGE SIMPSON

Petitioner West Shore School District (District) appeals from the order of the Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas (trial court)*fn1 mandating busing of Scott T. Wyland's (Wyland) two children from his home in the District to a private school also within the District pursuant to Section 1361 of the Public School Code of 1949 (School Code).*fn2 The District contends it has no duty to bus Wyland's children because another school district provides transportation to and from Wyland's ex-wife's residence, which is located in a different school district. We are asked whether the District must provide transportation to Wyland's children when they live with Wyland as "resident pupils" of the District. For the foregoing reasons, we affirm.

I. Background

Wyland lives in the District and pays school taxes to the District. Wyland has two minor children who attend a private elementary school located in the District. Pursuant to a divorce decree and court order awarding 50/50 custody, Wyland shares joint custody of his children with the children's mother.

When both parents resided in the District at two separate residences, the District provided transportation for the Wyland children to the private elementary school during 2008-2009, 2009-2010 and part of the 2010-2011 school year. The District provided transportation from Wyland's residence approximately two mornings each week.

The children's mother lived in the District until April 2011, when she moved to a residence located in Cumberland Valley School District (CVSD). She advised CVSD that her children needed transportation from her residence to the private elementary school part of the school week. The elementary school notified the District that the children are enrolled in CVSD and CVSD would provide transportation to and from the mother's residence. At that time, the District stopped providing morning transportation from Wyland's residence.

Wyland, an attorney, filed a complaint against the District seeking injunctive relief. Wyland argued that he remains a custodial parent and his children reside in the District under the 50/50 custody arrangement. Thus, under Section 1361 of the School Code, 24 P.S. §13-1361, the District remained obligated to continue transporting the Wyland children from his home to the private elementary school.

The District contended that CVSD is the district of primary residence; therefore, CVSD has the sole obligation to provide transportation. The District argued that school districts across the Commonwealth do not jointly provide transportation services and that only one school district is required to provide transportation under the School Code. The District asserted that the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) applies a "Single Residency Rule" for both enrollment and transportation purposes when asked questions about residency. The District contended that children cannot have dual residency, meaning residency in two school districts.

The trial court conducted a hearing. Wyland represented himself and served as his sole witness. The District presented two witnesses: Dr. Todd Stoltz, Director of Pupil Services and Transportation in the District, and Stephen Fisher, Advisor to the Deputy Secretary of PDE.

Wyland testified that his status with respect to the District had not changed. Wyland explained that due to the 50/50 custody order, he and his ex-wife share physical custody of the children in a 3/2/2 weekly arrangement. He testified his children generally require transportation from his home to school only two mornings a week due to after-school activities and his work schedule. Wyland confirmed that the District provided transportation to and from the two residences since his children started private school. He acknowledged the schedule occasionally changes depending on the circumstances. Wyland also acknowledged that the District's failure to provide morning transportation to his children has not prevented them from receiving a proper education.

Dr. Stoltz testified regarding the District's policy on transportation. He testified the District provided transportation to the Wyland children during the prior school years because both parents were District residents. He explained the District would not have transported the Wyland children if the parents lived in two separate districts because it would not be consistent with PDE policy. Dr. Stoltz testified PDE provides reimbursement of $385 per nonpublic school student, which is currently paid to CVSD. He stated the District denied transportation to the Wyland children due to lack of reimbursement. Hr'g Tr., 9/6/11, at 62; Certified Record (C.R.) at 141.

Dr. Stoltz acknowledged that PDE's transportation reimbursement form 1049 permitted proration of transportation services for up to one tenth for each student. Significantly, he further acknowledged the District has eight buses with dedicated routes to the private elementary school in question. Hr'g Tr. at 80-81; C.R. at 159-160. Dr. Stoltz conceded that the District suffers no special burden caused by the fact that the Wyland children have two separate residences. Hr'g Tr. at 77; C.R. at 156. He also admitted the District did not suffer additional financial hardships when it transported the Wyland children. The only hardship Dr. Stoltz identified as related to busing the children is the addition of a stop and more time to the bus route.

In his role at PDE, Fisher addresses enrollment and residency issues. Fisher testified about PDE's position on transportation and residency. Fisher explained it is PDE's policy and practice to provide transportation reimbursement to only one school district. He advised that when pupils of separated parents live in two different school districts, PDE designates a district as the district of residence and provides transportation reimbursement to the district in which the child resides. In this case, PDE designated the mother's district, CVSD, as the district of residence, and it is providing transportation reimbursement to that district.

Fisher also testified regarding record-keeping requirements for PDE for enrollment, as distinguished from transportation. He advised the district is responsible to ensure compliance with compulsory attendance and other enrollment issues. With regard to separated parents, Fisher stated that PDE designates one district for reporting and reimbursement purposes. He explained that district reporting obligations for private school students do not include achievement and special education, as the duty to report belongs to the school attended, not the district. Fisher was unaware of any other situations in which children receive transportation services from both districts in which parents having joint custody reside, and he would not recommend it.

The trial court issued a 10-page opinion in which it granted the preliminary injunction, ordering the District to resume transportation of the Wyland children. Pursuant to the injunction, the District resumed transportation in December 2011.

The District appealed to this Court.*fn3 In its Concise Statement of Errors on Appeal pursuant to Pa. R.A.P. No. 1925, the District identified 28 separate errors, including that the trial court failed to apply the higher standard required for mandatory, as opposed to prohibitory, injunctions. In the face of such a non-concise statement, however, the trial court declined to expand upon its original opinion.

On appeal, the District spends much energy challenging the fact-finding and weight-of-evidence decisions it attributes to the trial court. Also, it contends that the lack of busing by the District does not harm the children's education. The District characterizes the alleged harm as no more than inconvenience to Wyland, as he would need to drive the children to school on the two mornings a week when the children reside there.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) filed a friend-of-the-court brief regarding the impact of the case on school districts across the Commonwealth. PSBA asserts that the injunction undermines the "Single Residency Rule" that PDE applies when residency issues arise. PSBA echoes the District's concerns and cautions against any decision that permits children to receive services from more than one school district.

Wyland argues the trial court properly construed Section 1361 of the School Code to require transportation of his children who live in the District. He emphasizes that the law and facts provide ample support for the trial court's decision. Wyland underscores that the alleged "Single Residency Rule" does not appear in any written guidelines or regulations, and is not authorized by the School Code. Wyland also asserts the District's appeal should be dismissed because its Concise Statement of Errors on Appeal was not concise.

II. Discussion

While the facts presented here raise a question of first impression regarding a school district's transportation obligations to students who reside in more than one district and attend private school, our answer is informed by cases defining "resident pupil." Before we reach the merits of this dispute, however, we address Wyland's argument that the District's appeal must be dismissed for non-compliance with Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 1925.

A. 1925 Statement: Waiver

Wyland asserts the District waived its arguments on appeal because it filed a lengthy Concise Statement of Errors on Appeal. Specifically, Wyland relies upon the ...


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