Answering complaint about bus stop, commissioner points out parents' duty

by Jay Worona

On Board Online • October 9, 2017

By Jay Worona
Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel

Parents who disagree with their school district's designation of bus stops are free to bring appeals to the commissioner of education, who must decide whether the school district's transportation determination was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable or an abuse of discretion.

In Appeal of E.F., a father complained his two children had to cross a "heavily traveled" road without a crosswalk to reach a bus stop. The commissioner dismissed the appeal on technical grounds but added, "It is the responsibility of the parent, not the district, to see that the child safely reaches the pick-up point."

The students live on a private road in a residential development in a suburb of Albany. The school district provided the family with transportation from a designated bus stop located less than 0.02 miles from the residence. The parents requested that the district relocate the bus stop to a cul-de-sac on their street. When the school district failed to grant the parents their request, the father appealed to the commissioner.

In their appeal, the family argued that the bus stop location was "not a safe stop" because the students were required to cross a road in "a busy area with new developments and a growing population" and that there were "potential hazards from the driveway of the construction site." The parents also contended that there is no "safe waiting area" because there is no sidewalk. Furthermore, "[i]n the event of snow, ice, rain, and other inclement weather [the students] are exposed to [these] hazards. . ."

The school district raised many procedural reasons as to why this appeal should be dismissed including, but not limited to, the fact that it was not filed in a timely manner, and the commissioner agreed. Nevertheless, the commissioner indicated that even if the appeal were not dismissed on procedural grounds, it would have been dismissed on the merits.

In transportation decisions, "a board of education must balance considerations of pupil safety and convenience, routing efficiency and costs," the commissioner said. "The law does not require a school district to provide transportation for the pupil directly to and from home and that boards of education have discretion to require students to walk to pick-up points from which transportation will be provided."

Regarding the need for the student to cross a "heavily traveled" road, the commissioner stated that "where a student's home is on a dangerous road or at a remote location, the parents are not free from the obligation to assist the student in reaching the pick-up point."

She emphasized that boards of education must make their determinations regarding bus stops in a manner which is not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or which demonstrates an abuse of discretion. Since none of these particular factors appeared to exist in this particular action, the commissioner deferred to the board of education.

"A board of education may exercise its discretion when designating pick-up and drop-off points, provided that the board uses reasonable care in exercising such discretion," the commissioner wrote.

Regarding safety factors raised by the parents, including the nature and volume of traffic, the commissioner said the conditions are identical to characteristics of many pick up points in rural and suburban areas.

While the decision does not alter the legal landscape, it provides a reminder of the importance of school districts using "reasonable care" in bus stop decisions.

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