January 16, 2015

Superior court judge rules in favor of Catholic students in bus dispute

By John Shaughnessy

A Marion County Superior Court judge has ordered Lawrence Township to provide public bus transportation for eligible students attending two Catholic elementary schools in the district.

The ruling by Judge James B. Osborn is the latest chapter in a legal dispute that started in 2010 when Lawrence Township ended bus service for students who attended St. Lawrence School and St. Simon the Apostle School, both in Indianapolis.

Previously, the transportation had been provided—as required by Indiana law—at no cost, but the Lawrence Township School Board said it had to start charging a fee because of financial problems in the district.

In issuing his order, Judge Osborn stated, “Lawrence Township shall establish its regular routes and bus stops to accommodate the needs of the public school students. If the non-public school students reside along the regular routes established by Lawrence Township, the non-public students may board the buses at the bus stops on the regular routes.”

He then noted, “Lawrence Township shall thereafter make arrangements for the non-public school students to be delivered to either their non-public school or to a point on the regular route from which the non-public students may walk to their non-public schools.”

Judge Osborn also ruled that Lawrence Township was responsible for providing bus transportation to return the Catholic school students to their homes.

The ruling was praised by the lawyer who has represented the archdiocese in the case. Jay Mercer hopes the judge’s decision will resolve the dispute that has included “three lawsuits, an appeal and a clarification of the law by the legislature.”

“We look forward to working with Lawrence Township to rebuild the spirit of cooperation that existed before this legal fight, and move forward with a bus transportation plan that will serve all of the taxpayers of Lawrence Township,” Mercer said.

“We also hope that Judge Osborn’s decision will deter other school corporations who have been considering canceling their bus transportation programs for non-public school students from doing so.”

Mercer also noted, “Lawrence Township originally cited cost as the reason for not continuing the bus service. We are quite certain that the legal cost incurred by Lawrence Township far exceeds the cost that would have been incurred by the township had it continued to provide bus service that it was required to provide.”

The ruling is a great victory for the two schools, its students and their parents, Mercer said.

“Judge Osborn’s decision is a win for the parents who have had to juggle their calendars and make other transportation arrangements after Lawrence Township canceled bus service for non-public school students,” he said.

“The parents of students at St. Lawrence and St. Simon are excited to implement the bus transportation plan as soon as possible.” †

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