Residences and School Districts
As parents gear up for back-to-school shopping and organizing, it is worthwhile to brush up on Pennsylvania laws that control where children are entitled to attend school.
The Pennsylvania School Code provides that school-age children are entitled to attend the public school where their parents or physical guardians “reside.” Pennsylvania judges have interpreted the School Code to require actual physical residence. Just owning a home in a school district does not mean that your children can go to school there; you have to actually live in the home to have the right to send your children to school in that district. If you rent a home and consistently use it as your primary residence, your children are automatically entitled to attend school in that district.
When school districts challenge a child’s entitlement to attend, the courts review the facts closely. In one case, in order to meet the needs of their disabled child, a Pennsylvania family rented an apartment near a private school that the disabled child attended. The mother and her children lived in the apartment; they moved their possessions there and received their mail there.
On alternate weekends, they returned to the family home in another county where the father continued to live to be close to his job. The family expected to continue that living arrangement for seven years while the disabled child was enrolled in the school. The Pennsylvania appellate court found that the apartment was a legitimate and actual residence and that the disabled child’s sibling was entitled to public education in the district.
In a similar case, another well-meaning mother did not fare as well. After remarrying following the death of the father of her children, the mother moved into her new husband’s home. The children did not do well in the new school district, and the mother found the school at fault. She returned to the apartment where she had lived with the deceased father, staying there with the children several nights each week. Some mornings, she left the apartment with the children, returned to the family home for breakfast and showers, and drove them back to school in the apartment’s school district.
When the school challenged her entitlement to enroll the children, the court found that she was not actually residing in the apartment’s school district, because she and the children did not regularly sleep there.
School district residence disputes usually start when district administrators become concerned about a child’s residence status. Increasingly, the cases involve children living with grandparents or other relatives. The School Code states that when an adult is raising a child and “supporting the child gratis as if it were his [or her] own,” the child is entitled to attend school where that adult lives. No proof of written guardianship or adoption is necessary. But the adult can be required to sign a sworn statement that he or she is a resident of the district, that he or she is supporting the child gratis, that he or she will assume all personal obligations for the child relative to school requirements, and that he or she intends to so keep and support the child continuously and not merely through the school term.