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COA: Schools required to transport students for free

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The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Indiana students cannot be charged to ride the bus to and from school. The judges found an arrangement between a school corporation and a private company that required parents to pay for their children to ride the bus violated the state constitution.

After the property tax caps went into effect in 2010, schools across the state had to find ways to cut costs. Franklin Township Community School Corporation voted to eliminate student transportation for the 2011-2012 school year, and it later contracted with Central Indiana Educational Service Center to provide transportation services to and from school for a fee. The township decided to continue with the pay-to-ride plan even after Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller issued two official opinions on the matter. Zoeller found, based on Nagy v. Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp., 844 N.E.2d 481 (Ind. 2006), the plan violated Article 8, Section 1 of the Indiana Constitution.

Two parents filed a class-action lawsuit, after which the school board voted to resume busing its students to and from school at no charge. The trial court granted summary judgment for Franklin Township, holding that the Indiana Tort Claims Act barred the plaintiff parents’ claims, that the plaintiffs weren’t entitled to monetary damages and the school corporation did not violate the state constitution by ending busing to and from school.

“Applying Nagy to the facts of this case, we conclude that Franklin Township acted unconstitutionally. Our legislature has determined that school corporations ‘may’ transport their students to and from school. Thus, pursuant to Nagy, the legislature has determined that transportation to and from school qualifies as a part of a uniform system of public education,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote in Lora Hoagland v. Franklin Township Community School Corporation, 49A02-1301-PL-44.

The judges determined Hoagland is entitled to declaratory judgment to that effect and remanded with instructions. The judges also concluded that the ITCA does not apply to Lora Hoagland’s state constitutional claim – an issue of first impression in state courts. “Hoagland’s claim sounds in Indiana’s Education Clause, not tort law,” they held.

The Court of Appeals affirmed that Hoagland may not seek monetary damages as there is no express or implied right to do so under the Indiana Constitution.
 

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