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Calif. District Not Obligated To Provide Transportation, Judge Rules

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A northern California school district's policy of assigning students to distant schools without providing transportation does not violate state law, a judge has ruled.

Two parents filed a lawsuit against the West Contra Costa County district last year, claiming the policy denied their children's right to a free education under the state constitution.

The 110-square-mile district in the San Francisco Bay area, formerly known as the Richmond district, has been plagued with financial troubles in recent years, and declared bankruptcy in 1991.

It has closed several schools that needed extensive repairs and were too costly to maintain. As a result, many students have been assigned to schools miles from their homes because the remaining neighborhood schools are overcrowded. (See Education Week, Jan. 11, 1995.)

During the trial, several parents testified that they often had to skip work to drive their children to schools scattered across the district, according to Patrick Richard, a lawyer for the parents.

Other parents testified that they were forced to teach their children at home because they could not afford public transportation, Mr. Richard said.

Appeal Likely

But, in Fudge v. The West Contra Costa County School District, Superior Court Judge Robert G. McGrath ruled Sept. 1 that transportation is not included in a child's right to a free education. The news came as a relief to officials in the 31,000-student district.

"We made extraordinary attempts to place students as close as possible to their homes, but there's only so much that the school can do," said Santiago Wood, the deputy superintendent.

The district will continue its efforts to alleviate overcrowding, and construction is scheduled to begin this year on two new schools, Mr. Wood said.

Mr. Richard claimed the district's remedies are inadequate, and he said his clients will appeal.

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