[authors: Kendra Berner, Brian Crowley]
The School Code requires school districts to provide transportation to students attending charter and nonpublic schools that live at least 1.5 miles from the school attended. Students attending charter and nonpublic schools must pick up the bus along its normal route and be dropped off at the point most accessible to their school that is along the normal bus route. School districts can operate separate bus routes for students attending charter or nonpublic schools if that option is safer, more economical, and more efficient. Additionally, school districts must provide transportation to students attending charter and nonpublic schools that live within 1.5 miles of the school attended on the same basis that they provide transportation to their own pupils living within 1.5 miles of the school attended. The statute is silent as to whether a public school must provide transportation to nonpublic and charter school students when public schools are not in session.
In C.E. and C.L. v. Board of Education of East St. Louis School District. No. 189, several parents and their children living within the East St. Louis School District and attending a parochial school sued the District when the District refused to provide them bus transportation on days that the parochial school was in session but the public schools were not. The trial court held that “no section of the School Code requires the school district to provide transportation in excess of what it provides for its own students,” and observed that the relevant section of the School Code emphasized the “cost, convenience, and efficiency of the District.”
The appellate court noted that the School Code is silent on the question at issue but agreed with the trial court that “the legislative intent is that transportation be provided to nonpublic school students only on the same basis on which it is provided to public school students.” The appellate court found that it would be inconsistent with the intent of the School Code to require districts to transport nonpublic and charter school students on days when the public schools are not in session. The court explained that the legislature drafted this provision of the School Code to ensure that the “transportation of nonpublic school students not increase the school district’s cost or interfere with its convenience or efficiency.”
Thus, the School Code “simply allows nonpublic school students to utilize the public school district’s existing bus transportation and nothing more. The public school district need not increase its transportation services to accommodate a different, or potentially longer, nonpublic school calendar.”
The parents and students may ask the Illinois Supreme Court to review the decision, but for now, districts have a strong basis to refuse to provide bus transportation to charter and nonpublic school students on days when the public schools are not in session.