According to Wisconsin law, a pupil attending a public elementary or secondary school--including kindergarten--is entitled to transportation by the public school district in which the pupil resides if the pupil resides two or more miles from the nearest public school the pupil is entitled to attend. A pupil who attends a private school and meets certain other eligibility requirements is also entitled to transportation if the private school is located two or more miles from the pupil's residence.
Generally, pupils who live within two miles of the public or private school they attend are not automatically entitled to transportation under state law. In school districts that have chosen to invoke the "city option", even those students who live two miles or more from school may not automatically be entitled to receive transportation services.
Exceptions to the Two Mile Rule
However, due to unusually hazardous conditions in certain areas, a school district may deem it necessary to provide transportation to some children residing less than two miles from their school. An "unusual hazard" is an existing transportation condition that constitutes more than an ordinary hazard and seriously jeopardizes the safety of pupils traveling to and from school.
It is understood that all traffic situations through which pupils must travel present some degree of hazard, which is often dependent on the age of the pupils involved. When such hazards reach a level of danger which is unacceptable to the community in which they exist (and which cannot be corrected by other local units of government), a school board may develop a plan to designate such an area as unusually hazardous. School districts that do not transport students who live two miles or more from school, as authorized under the city option, may also designate areas as unusually hazardous. In such cases, the distance between an affected student's home and school may be greater than two miles.
S. 121.54 (9)(a), Wis. Stats., establishes the procedures to be followed in the development of an unusually hazardous transportation (UHT) plan. Sections 121.54(9)(am) and (b), Wis. Stats., specify the procedures to be followed by an individual who is aggrieved by a school board's UHT plan or the lack of a plan.
Development of an unusually hazardous transportation plan requires a school district to include a map and explanation of the area to be designated. In addition, a district shall also propose a plan of transportation, which provides proper safeguards for pupils residing in that area, if necessary. Upon approval of the plan, the district shall file it with the sheriff of the county in which the main office of the district is located.
The local county sheriff is required to review the district's plan (and may suggest revisions), investigate the designated area, and make a determination as to whether unusual hazards exist which cannot be corrected by local government. Upon completion of this review, the sheriff shall report the findings in writing to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and the school board concerned.
State law requires that within 60, but not less than 30, days from the day on which the State Superintendent receives the plan, the State Superintendent is required to review the plan to determine whether unusual hazards to pupil travel exist and whether it provides proper safeguards for such pupils. If the State Superintendent approves the district's plan, the district shall put the plan into effect and be eligible for state aid for any transportation of pupils (up to $15 per pupil per year) in the affected area.
Suggested Criteria to Use in Identifying Unusually Hazardous Transportation Areas
The law does not dictate the specific conditions that constitute an unusual hazard. Rather, the above procedure requires the original consideration and development of UHT plans to be conducted by the local government because each community and school district has unique characteristics that contribute to unusual transportation hazards. Since characteristics vary widely from one district to another, local officials are typically in the best position to determine what constitutes an unusual hazard in their own community. Some, or all, of the following suggested criteria/conditions may be used to assist local governments in determining whether an unusual hazard exists:
- age of pupils;
- lack of sidewalks;
- lack of crossing guards;
- lack of local law enforcement;
- railroad crossings;
- width of shoulder of road/highway;
- traffic counts;
- temporary hazards such as construction projects or street repairs; or
- other conditions identified by local units of government.
Section 121.54(9)(am), Wis. Stats., provides that any local citizen aggrieved by the failure of a school district to file an unusually hazardous transportation plan may notify the district in writing that they believe an area of unusual hazard exists within the district. Typically, the perceived unusual hazards would be located along a child's walking route within two miles of the child's school. However, in school districts that do not transport students under the city option, the perceived hazards may be located more than two miles from the child's school. This process also applies to a child's walking route to or from a school bus stop.
Required School District Response
A school district is required to reply in writing within 30 days of receipt of such notice and send a copy of its response to the county sheriff and to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Typically, school districts receiving such complaints request the sheriff to review and investigate the area in question and report back to the district on his or her determination as to whether or not the area is unusually hazardous. The sheriff's response is also usually sent to the aggrieved individual.
Hearing with the State Superintendent
Upon receipt of the school board's response, the aggrieved individual may request a hearing before the State Superintendent to review the area in question to determine whether an area of unusual hazard exists. If the State Superintendent determines such an area exists, he or she has the authority to require a school district to transport pupils to and from school immediately, in addition to requiring the district to proceed as indicated in the development and revision of an unusually hazardous transportation plan, as indicated above. If the determination of the existence of unusual hazards relates to the walking route to/from a school bus stop, the school district would be required to move the stop to another location.
Section 121.54(9)(b), Wis. Stats., permits an individual who is aggrieved by any aspect of a school district's UHT plan, or by the determination of the sheriff as to whether unusual hazards exist, to request a hearing before the State Superintendent. The request for a hearing must be made within 30 days after the sheriff's report is received by the State Superintendent.