Legal Question of the Week – 1/16/15

By Attorney Thomas B. Mooney, Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut

The “Legal Question of the Week” is a regular feature of the CAS Weekly NewsBlast. We invite readers to submit short,
law-related questions of practical concern to school administrators. Each week, we will select a question and publish an
answer. While these answers cannot be considered formal legal advice, they may be of help to you and your colleagues.
We may edit your questions, and we will not identify the authors.

Please submit your questions to: legalmailbagatcasciacdotorg. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Dear Legal Mailbag:

Parents in certain neighborhoods are complaining that we should not have revised the policy for eligibility for transportation this year when we changed bus routes. We follow the State guidelines, which provide that high school students are eligible for transportation if they have to walk more than 2 miles and that middle school students are eligible if they have to walk more than 1.3 miles to school. But these parents claim that busing must remain as it has been in the past. Indeed, students in certain neighborhoods have been bused for 30 years; and, the parents are claiming that the district has set a precedent on which the parents may rely. By contrast, the board of education position is that these students are courtesy riders. I have heard the phrase “past practice.” Can the board make these changes after all these years?

Trying to Escape the Past


Dear Trying:

The concept of “past practice” is important, but it does not apply here. “Past practice” is a labor relations term that refers to existing conditions of employment for union employees, which an employer cannot change without negotiations.

By contrast, the duty to provide transportation is defined by statute. Transportation is considered part of school accommodations, and Conn. Gen. Stat. Section 10-220 requires that school districts provide transportation to students whenever it is “reasonable and desirable,” i.e. whenever it would be unreasonable to expect a student to get to school without such district-provided transportation. Moreover, Conn. Gen. Stat. Section10-186 permit parents to challenge transportation decisions when they claim that the proposed walking route or offered transportation is not reasonable.

School districts must consider various factors in determining whether transportation is “reasonable and desirable.” The age of the student and the distance the student is expected to walk are relevant factors, as is reflected in the distinction your district draws between high school students and middle school students. A significant other factor you didn’t mention, however, is safety, e.g., are there sidewalks on the route, will the student be required to cross a busy street, are intersections controlled by stop lights or crossing guards, will the student be confronted with hazards such as wooded areas or streams, and the like. The key is that the proposed route for walkers or the walking route to the bus stop must be reasonable and safe.

In sum, what is safe and reasonable controls, not what the district has done in the past. Of course, a parent is free to argue that past decisions were based on safety concerns and that it is not safe to change that past decision. However, in considering transportation decisions that school officials make, hearing officers will base their decisions on what is or is not reasonable, not what the district has done in the past.