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New York districts don’t have to bus private students on public holidays

The Empire State’s high court found that the state has previously shot down legislation that is far less "burdensome" than the proposition on appeal.

(CN) — New York’s high court on Thursday ruled that public schools are not required to provide transportation to private school students on days public schools have off.

The appeal came from families with children who attend private Jewish Schools in Orange County, New York. They claimed that New York’s education law requires their public school district to provide their children with education on the 20 days that their schools are in session, but public schools are off.

Those families challenged that district policy, which stated that it is “not required to provide transportation to nonpublic schools on days on which the district’s schools are not in session” is inconsistent with the following state law:

“Sufficient transportation facilities (including the operation and maintenance of motor vehicles) shall be provided by the school district for all the children residing within the school district to and from the school they legally attend, who are in need of such transportation because of the remoteness of the school to the child or for the promotion of the best interest of such children.”

The families sought a permanent injunction compelling the district to provide that transportation to their children. 

But in a 14-page ruling Thursday, the New York Court of Appeals shot down their ask.

Siding with the Washingtonville Central School District, the court held that the state law is “ambiguous” and doesn’t explicitly require the state to provide transportation in this instance.

“The phrase ‘sufficient transportation facilities’ is ambiguous and could be interpreted in a number of ways, including requiring transportation on each day nonpublic schools are open or only on days the public schools are open,” wrote Judge Michael Garcia. The other six appellate judges concurred.

The court took particular issue with the word “sufficient,” digging into the history of the statutory language to aid its interpretation of the word.

“The role of public funding for education in New York is a concept that goes back to the early days of statehood,” the court wrote.

In referencing the history of this legislation, the court found numerous instances of previous legislation that cut to the core of the families’ arguments, which were all defeated. In 1981, the state legislature declined a bill that would have required school districts to “provide bus service for children attending non-public schools when such non-public schools are in session and the public schools of the district are not in session.”

That bill never passed, the court wrote, in part because it didn’t limit the number of days that private schools could request this transportation.

Two years later, a similar bill was floated — this time with a limit of up to five days of transportation for private school students when public schools were off.

“That bill also failed to pass,” Garcia wrote.

The judges also referenced a proposed amendment to the statute from 1985, which would have required the district to offer just two alternative days of transportation, a far cry from the 20 days plaintiffs are requesting here.

“That request far exceeds the 1985 proposal that non-New York City districts provide a maximum of two alternative days — a far more modest proposal that was still criticized as overly burdensome,” the court wrote.

Ultimately concluding that the legislative history of New York State favors the defendants, the judges affirmed State Education Department guidance that’s been in place for more than three decades.

“In sum, New York had a long history of prohibiting public funding of nonpublic schools,” Garcia wrote. 

Attorneys for both parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday’s opinion.

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Categories / Appeals, Education

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