April 8, 2011

Indiana Court of Appeals ruling upholds Lawrence Township decision on nonpublic school bus fee

Criterion staff report

An Indiana Court of Appeals recently upheld an earlier court decision that Lawrence Township Schools do not have to provide full bus transportation to students who attend nonpublic schools.

The appeals court ruling upheld an order by Marion Superior Court Judge Robyn L. Moberly that Lawrence Township no longer had to provide free shuttle service from its public middle schools to two Catholic elementary schools in the district—St. Lawrence School and St. Simon the Apostle School.

The dispute started in November of 2009 when the principals of those two Catholic schools were informed that the Lawrence Township School Board had developed a plan to charge a fee to those schools for their students to ride public school buses from the middle schools to their parochial schools.

Previously, the transportation had been provided—as required by Indiana law—at no cost, but the school board said it had to start charging a fee for the shuttle services because of financial problems in the district.

Lawrence Township sought to charge the two Catholic schools a fee based on a formula of $1 per mile per student.

In response, the archdiocese filed two lawsuits against the school district on behalf of Catholic school parents trying to prevent Lawrence Township from charging the fee, and challenging the district’s decision to not transport the students to their Catholic schools.

In issuing her order, Judge Moberly stated, “If the nonpublic schools request that transportation from the middle schools to their respective schools be provided by the defendant school corporation, then the nonpublic schools must pay the actual cost thereof.”

The appeal court agreed.

“We’re disappointed,” said G. Joseph Peters, the associate executive director of Catholic education for the archdiocese. “In this case, they effectively denied transportation to our students.”

Peters offered that assessment after noting that it doesn’t help the affected Catholic students to get bussed to the middle schools when there is no free shuttle service from the middle schools to the Catholic schools—a distance of about five miles.

“We feel the parents and the kids are the losers here,” Peters said. “We feel it came down to more of a financial issue than anything else, than something in favor of the kids. It may lead us to seek a legislative solution in the future. Our parents are taxpayers. They’re already paying for this. We’re thankful for the parents and school administrators who attended the hearings and testified in this matter.” †

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