Law Update

Court Upholds Wisconsin District on Refusal to Bus Charter Students

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A Wisconsin school district did not violate the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution or state law by refusing to bus students of a charter public school located within the district’s boundaries, a federal appeals court has ruled.

Racine Charter One Inc., which runs the public 353-student 21st Century Preparatory School under a charter from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, sued the Racine Unified School District in 2003 after the district refused to provide transportation for the charter school’s students.

Two members of a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago, agreed with a federal district court that the charter school students were not “similarly situated” to students who were already bused by the Racine district, and that the district had a rational basis to decide not to bus them, based on the extra cost.

Such costs might include a need for extra buses and alteration of bus routes and schedules, U.S. Circuit Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote in the court’s Sept. 22 opinion.

Judge Williams said that the district’s “financial straits need not be dire for us to find its refusal to extend transportation services to Racine Charter One rational. We need only recognize that extending that busing benefit will come at a significant enough expense to [the district], and that is rational basis enough to justify its transportation policy decision.

“For now, it suffices to say that Charter One is not entitled to a free ride.”

The court also considered a Wisconsin law that requires a district to transport public, private, and parochial school students who live in the district, attend a school inside the district’s boundaries and the students’ designated attendance area, and who live two miles or more from the school or on a walking route with unusual hazards.

The court said that even though the charter school was inside the 22,000-student Racine district’s boundaries, it is functionally an independent school district and thus responsible for its own busing.

Vol. 25, Issue 09, Page 18

Published in Print: October 26, 2005, as Court Upholds Wisconsin District on Refusal to Bus Charter Students

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