St. Joan Antida High School in Milwaukee.

Catholic high school sues Milwaukee district over bus transportation for students

March 23, 2017
The lawsuit contends that Wisconsin law requires the public school district to provide transportation to St. Joan Antida High School students.

A Catholic high school in Milwaukee is suing the city public school system over the denial of busing to 70 students.

The school contends that the students are entitled to receive district-funded transportation under state law,

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a conservative public-interest law firm, filed the legal action (read the legal complaint) on behalf of St. Joan Antida High School, an all-girls voucher school.

The suit argues that St. Joan Antida should be treated the same as a citywide high school in Milwaukee Public Schools, where children who live 2 miles or more from the school are provided transportation regardless of how close they live to a city bus line, the complaint says.

Providing transportation for St. Joan Antida would cost the district about $108,000 a year.

Paul Gessner, the head of school at St. Joan Antida, says he approached the school district in 2014 about obtaining transportation funding and was turned down in the final stages of verifying students.

"On behalf of our families, we have requested that [the school district] honor its role and responsibility in ensuring that our students' transportation needs are met in the same manner that it does for students attending city-wide public schools," Gessner says in a message on the school's web site. "It is our intent to achieve a fair resolution to this issue, utilizing the court system, so that our students and their families receive the same transportation benefits as those attending public city-wide high schools."

A 1967 state law calls for school districts to provide busing to private-school students if they meet the following conditions: residing more than 2 miles from the private school and within the attendance zone of the private school; and if their private school is within the public school district's boundary or within 5 miles of it. The statute says private-school students should be transported upon a "reasonably uniform basis" with public-school students.

The district is not obligated to provide students transportation — to a public or private school — if they live near a public bus line. According to the lawsuit, the school district makes an exception for children who attend its citywide specialty schools.

St. Joan Antida contends that the district should extend that same exception to St. Joan Antida under the "reasonable uniformity" clause in the 1967 law. They say St. Joan Antida is essentially a citywide voucher school.

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