Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter
Dear Legal Mailbag:
A family just moved to town, and they enrolled their fourth-grade son in the elementary school where I am principal. To say that they feel entitled doesn’t quite do justice to their actions. I was taken aback by the father’s request to interview teachers teaching the classes at his son’s grade so that he could determine the class to which his son would be assigned. I straightened him out on that score, but then the mother sent me a critique of the offerings in the school cafeteria, suggesting that other “more interesting” items be placed on the menu. I thanked her, and forwarded her suggestions to our cafeteria manager with a note, “For whatever this is worth.”
I write Legal Mailbag for advice on the latest demand. Shortly after enrolling his son, the father sent me an email, asking that we move the bus stop to which his son is assigned to a spot that is visible from their home. The father explained that he is concerned with the two-block walk to the bus stop, especially on rainy or cold days. He further stated that adding a stop in front of their house would also be “acceptable.”
I wrote back promptly to say that we would not be moving the bus stop, and I thought that was that. However, yesterday I received a letter from the father’s lawyer, demanding either that we move the bus stop or that the Board of Education hear his appeal. Can I just write him again, telling him that my decision is final?
Just Say No
Though a hearing is unlikely to result in granting the father’s request, he has a legal right to a hearing on whether the bus stop should be moved. Indeed, if he doesn’t like the decision of your board of education after it grants him that hearing, the father can appeal that decision to a hearing officer appointed by the State Board of Education, and even beyond to the Superior Court. However, given the facts as you have described them, it is unlikely that the father will get his way.
The right to a hearing here arises from the statutes requiring that school districts provide school accommodations to resident children. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-220(a), “Duties of boards of education,” provides that boards of education “shall make such provisions as will enable each child of school age residing in the district to attend some public day school for the period required by law and provide for the transportation of children wherever transportation is reasonable and desirable.” (Emphasis added). Moreover, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-186, the school accommodations statute, also refers to transportation as part of school accommodations. In relevant part, Section 10-186 provides:
(a) Each local or regional board of education shall furnish, by transportation or otherwise, school accommodations so that each child five years of age and over and under twenty-one years of age who is not a graduate of a high school or technical education and career school may attend public school . . . . (Emphasis added).
The fact that transportation is part of providing school accommodations to resident children is logical. If a student cannot get to school, the student cannot receive an education.
When parents claim that their children have been denied school accommodations, they have the right to a hearing. Section 10-186(b) provides in part:
(b) (1) If any board of education denies such accommodations, the parent or guardian of any child who is denied schooling, or an emancipated minor, a pupil eighteen years of age or older or an unaccompanied youth who is denied schooling, or an agent or officer charged with the enforcement of the laws concerning attendance at school, may, in writing, request a hearing by the board of education.
Given that reasonable transportation is considered an essential element of school accommodations, the right to a hearing extends to a claim that the district has denied school accommodations by not providing reasonable transportation as required by the statute. Accordingly, like it or not, this parent has a right to a hearing before your board of education.
Importantly, a claim by a parent concerning transportation (including the placement of bus stops) would succeed only with a showing that the failure to provide such reasonable transportation effectively denied the student access to school (“school accommodations”). Here, the parent has a right to the hearing that he has requested, but he would be hard-pressed to show that the failure to place a bus stop immediately in front of the family home is effectively denying his son school accommodations. Thus, any hearing by your Board of Education will likely result in a decision to deny the appeal.
The statute further provides that parents (or guardians) may appeal an adverse ruling by the local or regional board of education to a hearing officer appointed by the State Department of Education. In cases involving claims over transportation, the hearing officer is required to defer to the judgment of the local or regional board of education:
Except in the case of a residency determination, the finding of the local or regional board of education, subcommittee of such board or a local impartial hearing board shall be upheld unless it is determined by the hearing board that the finding was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable.
Thus, while a state-level hearing officer must make residency determinations de novo (independently without deference to the board of education decision below), hearing officers must show deference to board of education decisions on other school accommodation matters, including transportation.
In sum, the parent has a right to a hearing before your board of education, and he can even appeal to the State over the district’s refusal to move the bus stop. Legal Mailbag offers sympathy to you and your district for having to go through a hearing on what appears to be an unreasonable request. Legal Mailbag also offers you comfort in knowing that the hearing will almost certainly result in a denial of this parent’s request to move the bus stop.