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COA: Township not required to pay for private school shuttle

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A school township in Marion County isn’t legally required to transport nonpublic school students to their private schools, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed.

In Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Inc. v. Metro School District of Lawrence Twp., et al., No. 49A02-1004-PL-427, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis and parents of children who attend two Catholic elementary schools in Lawrence Township appealed the denial of their requests for declaratory and injunctive relief after the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township voted to end a longstanding practice to use shuttle buses to transport the nonpublic school children from township middle schools to their respective private schools.

Private elementary school students who lived along bus routes in Lawrence Township were allowed to ride the bus that took public school children to one of three public middle schools, from which the private school students would then board a free shuttle bus that would take them to one of the two private schools in the township. Lawrence Township paid for the shuttle but after facing a budget deficit, decided to end paying for the service.

The archdiocese sued and the trial court granted an emergency temporary restraining order, but later denied the archdiocese’s petition for injunctive and declaratory relief. After this ruling, the parents filed a similar suit, in which another trial judge found their suit was barred by res judicata. In both suits, the trial judges cited Indiana Code Section 20-27-11-1, which deals with transporting nonpublic school students and says “The transportation provided under this section must be from the home of the nonpublic school student or from a point on the regular route nearest or most easily accessible to the home of the nonpublic school student to and from the nonpublic school or to and from the point on the regular route that is nearest or most easily accessible to the nonpublic school.”

The issue in the combined appeal isn’t the pick-up of students along the regular route, but the delivery of the students to their schools. The archdiocese and parents argued that the statute requires the nonpublic school students be taken to their schools, but the statute also allows for the school to take the students to a place on the regular route that is closest to or most easily accessible to the private school.

In affirming the lower court, the Court of Appeals cited Frame v. South Bend Community School Corp., 480 N.E.2d 261 (Ind. App. 1985), and two opinions on similar issues from the Indiana Attorney General – one from 1933 and one from 1980.

“The foregoing precedents reflect Indiana’s goals of ensuring public safety and efficient allocation of public funds such that where a school district has already expended transportation resources that can benefit both nonpublic and public school students, nonpublic school students should certainly benefit from the outlay; however, the school district is not required to undertake additional expenses, to revise its existing bus routes, or to otherwise devote its funds such that they accommodate only nonpublic school students in the manner they desire,” wrote Judge Carr Darden.

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