The Great Religious Bus Dispute

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Judge orders district to create viable transportation plan

Catholic school parents sue Sylvania Schools over bussing

Sylvania Bus Dispute Original Complaint 08-11-2022

Sylvania Bus Dispute Amended Complaint 08-11-2022 (with more 1st amend. violations)

Sylvania Bus Dispute Judge’s Order 08-15-2022

Section 3327.01 | Transportation of pupils.

Section 3327.02 | Resolution declaring impracticality of transportation – offer of payment in lieu of transportation.

*Update 12/20/2023*: Original lawsuit dismissed by parents on August 30, 2022. Parents refiled on September 16, 2022 and asked for class action status and removed all references to the 1st amendment to keep it out of Federal court. Court docket has a pre-trial conference happening in March of 2024 and evidence and depositions are being collected currently.

Refiled Lawsuit: Jennifer A. Swiech et al. v Board of Education of the Sylvania City School District et al.

Sylvania parochial-school parents refile bus lawsuit, seek class status 9/17/2022

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Doug Berger 0:01
Two Ohio families spent a lot of money and time to complain about a new plan to bus their young children to their Catholic school. They cited some recent US Supreme Court First Amendment cases. But in the end, a judge used her gut feeling and helped protect the family’s privilege. I’m Doug Berger, and this is Secular Left.

Doug Berger 0:45
Unless you’ve been living on a rock, during the past several months, you’ve noticed that secular people have taken it on the chin in the Supreme Court. There’s been several and I talked about this in a previous episode, there’s been several court cases that did not go our way to the coach prayer case, school voucher case. And then of course, then we had like Roe v. Wade got overturned, that sort of thing. And one of the things that happens is that when these new cases when these cases get get decided, they generally are used in other cases that are cited in other cases, to hopefully get the same result that they’re looking for. And one of those cases came up recently, in the city of Sylvania, Ohio, which is a suburb of Toledo. It’s to the west of us, it’s relatively affluent. They have a good school district. And what had happened was that one of the side effects so we’re sorry, the pun, of the pandemic have been that there’s been problems with labor, or the availability of labor. And one of those problems has come down to school bus drivers. And these are the people that are hired to to transport children to and from their school. So a lot of school districts have been scrambling to fill the slots. You know, we could go into the reasons why there’s a lack of, of them. I think some of it is that since this is generally a job for retired people, you know, because of the time that it takes that I think the pandemic might have killed off many of the people, but that’s, I don’t have any evidence of that. I’m just saying speculating. Anyway. So one of the consequences of that, for the Sylvania school district was that they had to modify their transportation plan for the upcoming school year. School started on Monday, August the 15th. And so according to state law, when you have a busing plan, you have to communicate that to the parents by July the first. And so this issues that I’m going to talk about today, it’s been going on since July since this plan was communicated to parents. And basically what what happened was that they had to, because of the lack of drivers, because they had need of drivers. They had to, like combine routes and put kids multiple different kinds of kids on the same bus. So you had high school kids, and elementary kids riding together in in one bus. That’s not optimal, of course, because the schools have different times that they start and lead out. But it what they would do is they’d have all these kids on the same bus, they would go to a school, some kids would disembark the bus and go to school, and their kids would disembark the bus and get on another bus and go to their school or or however they were going to do it. This plan then was going to affect non public students. No, Ohio. According to state law. School districts are required to transport all eligible students in a district to their schools, and includes public, non public and charter students, as long as they are in the district and their school. And there’s some distance time and disk distance things about where the school can be. Let’s say You’re in New York City, and you’re in school you want to go to, I don’t know, as an Albany, well, a school district wouldn’t be required to transport you to Albany. Okay, put it that way. So there’s there are restrict the, you know, there’s kind of boundaries to this. But according to state law, they’re required to do that.

Doug Berger 5:22
And so they’re also required to transmit this plan before July the first. And some of these Catholic well, they’re not some to Catholic families were upset with this change, transportation change. One of the reasons they were upset was because the kids, their kids are going to have to catch the bus at 645 in the morning, which means that they would probably most likely have to get up before 645. Now, when I was a kid, I would get up maybe 30 minutes before I had to catch the bus. But anyway, that’s me. So these kids would have to get up early and get on the bus and you’re talking Kindergarteners through eighth grade, elementary students. And so they had a problem with that they also had a problem with the fact that they are going to be riding with high school kids. Many of these bus routes would be doubled up. And so there’d be a mix of different grade levels and public and non public and, and so they were upset with that. They are also upset with the fact that these, you would ride a bus with the high school kids, you would ride to the high school, the high school kids would get off and go to school. And the elementary kids would be there to wait for their bus, then to be transported to their Catholic school, their Catholic elementary school. So the parents were upset with that. So they tried to work with the school district. And the school district was saying, Look, this is all we can do. We don’t have the drivers, this is the best plan we have. And so the parents naturally decided to file. Well, they went to the Common Pleas Court, the local court and filed in the county and filed a complaint to try to get a temporary restraining order to stop the plan from being implemented since the first day of school was the 15th. And so what I’m going to talk about the details in the case, were brought up in this complaint that was filed in the county court. Families were upset with the time of the pickup, that their kids are going to have to go with high school students, and that they would be transferred to another bus. That was their main complaint. Well, when they filed the complaint in Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, all of these first amendment violations came up these claims a violation of the Free Exercise Clause in the Constitution. And that was their reasoning. They still were complaining about the tight times getting picked up. And that they had to ride with high school students. But but their main their main thrust of the complaint, once they filed it was that they were being treated differently. Their students were being treated treated differently than public school students. And they said that that was a violation of the First Amendment. And so that’s pretty much what we’re going to talk about. So they filed it claiming First Amendment violations. But are we really talking about First Amendment violations? They began by citing the state law about transportation of pupils. It’s section 33 27.01 of the Ohio Revised Code. Title 33 deals with education and libraries. And 3327 deals with transportation. And so they claimed that a school district was required to transport all students grades kindergarten through eighth who live more than two miles from their school. And that is true, that is what it does. And then also the other claim that they they were making was that the school district was not required to transport high school students, people that are in grades nine through 12. And so according to the state law, that is also correct. It says in in the state law that that

Doug Berger 9:43
the Board may provide transportation for grades nine through 12, rather than shall provide. The families also claimed that state law did not allow for transfers, which meant that they expected their kids to be taken from the door of their house to their Catholic school with no stops. Well, that’s where that is not correct. And the state law makes no reference to transfers. All it says it does say that you take you go from your house to the school, but it doesn’t define what that means. And so the school districts, what they do is they take students to a collection point where other buses pick them up kind of like most most public transportation systems work that way is, is you take a bunch of it’s like a spoke, you have a bunch of like a bunch of routes, coming into a single point where people then disembark buses, and get on other buses, or trains or planes or whatever. And then they go into different directions. And so nothing in state law prohibits the school district from doing that. So that’s where they’re wrong on that part. The state law also says that the schools don’t have to transport private school kids under certain conditions. One of those conditions is if the private school is 30 minutes or more from the public school, they would have been assigned to had they enrolled there. And what they call this resolution for declaring impracticability of transportation, offer of payment in lieu of transportation. And as section 33 27.02. They have a list of factors, there’s about six factors that a board can consider to determine whether or not transporting students certain students would be impractical. And then you have the basic, like I said, the time and distance required to provide it, the number of pupils to be transported. So let’s say it doesn’t make fiscal sense. Let’s say you have one student going into one school, it wouldn’t make fiscal sense to have a totally separate bus to transport that one student to one school. The cost of providing transportation in terms of equipment maintenance personnel administration maybe can’t afford it, whether similar or equivalent services provided to other pupils eligible for transportation, and whether and to what extent the additional service unavailable void ability disrupts current transportation schedules, and six whether other reimbursable types of transportation are available. And it says based on its consideration of the factors established in the section, the board or governing authority may pass a resolution declaring the impracticability of transportation. And it says the resolution shall include ease each pupils name and reason for impracticability. Such determination shall be made not later than 30, calendar days, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So the board of education could treat particular students differently than other students in it for the for the for methods of transportation. Okay, so that is just general, the general gist of, of the state law is that it all it says is your school district has to transport K through eight to their school. That’s all it says. It leaves up the time manner, place and method up to the individual districts. So the parents then filed an amended complaint that included well, they kind of did in the original complaint, but they added to their complaint, and cited several of the recent Church and State cases, the US Supreme Court used to give more privilege to sectarian schools like the school voucher case out of Maine. And basically, the thrust of it was that they feel that they’re being treated differently, then then public school students and that should be a violation.

Doug Berger 14:20
Now, in most cases, a claim of a First Amendment violation requires an actual injury. In the case of a religion, in case of in this case with religion, if a state action prevents somebody from practicing their religion, it could be seen as an injury in need of a remedy. Either the action is changed or prohibited. The parents in the bus case claim that if they can’t be transported to their religious school, then they will not be able to practice their religion. Is that really true? I think it’s bullcrap. But I mean, that’s kind of what the argument that they’re making is that it’s going to the the act of getting up at 645 in the morning and file writing with high school kids won’t let them practice their religion. I know it doesn’t make any sense. But that’s an argument they’re making. There are the options. As I noted, it’s simply that the parents don’t like the plan. According to interviews in the local media, the main issue is the little kids being on the same bus as high school kids in the morning. The district says other private school kids ride with high school kids. And due to a driver shortage, the Catholic students had to join the Club, which makes sense, if the reporting is accurate than the parents real complaint is they won’t be treated differently than other private school families. So they think that they should get different treatment than somebody who’s attending a non religious, private school. The parents claim that state law requires transportation to school without any transfers. And I’ve pointed out that that’s not true. And I have the links up for the relevant legal, the relevant, revised code sections, and you can read them yourself. The state law only says that they can’t transport the kid to their school, if it’s more than 30 minutes before the start of the day. So it makes sense to have transfers like this, because you take you start off at 645, you go to a high school, and let’s say your day starts at eight o’clock, you get there at seven o’clock, then you get on your next bus at 627 20. And get to your school at 10 till eight. So it’s within that 30 minute period, the parents also made the claim when this issue started, that they should be treated better than public school students and other private school students because the district is paid double for transporting private school children. I haven’t been able to verify that I’m assuming that that is correct that they do get paid extra for transporting non public students. And I think that’s because they don’t get federal money for transporting non public students. And so they get, you know, the state, you know, fills in the gap because there’s it still costs the same to transport the students, each student no matter where they’re going, it costs the same, but they probably don’t get the same kind of money for transporting and nonpublic students so the state chips in extra

Doug Berger 17:49
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Doug Berger 18:18
Then at the top of their amended court complaint that they filed on on the 11th they used a quote from the district Sylvania School District Transportation coordinator or manager. And the quote is, we don’t want the public parents to think all our buses will be going K through 12. And they insinuate that they were singling out the religious school parents. And that quote was from a email that included some talking points that the school district was going to tell nonpublic parents about the new plan. And so in order to see if they were single and being singled out because of the religion, you need to see the whole email. And so in their first original complaint that they filed, they had a copy of the email. It starts out and this was from the superintendent, the school superintendent, and so they had these lists of talking points to communicate to the non public schools. First was non public school students will be transported on Sylvania school buses. Second was non public school students will be transported to a Sylvania school and then ride a transfer bus to their private school. Point three was public and non public school students will be picked up dropped off together at a designated bus stop. Point for was elementary students will have priority seating in the front of the bus in order to implement a job propriate something. And then the fifth point was please note K through 12. Transportation on one bus is not uncommon in the state of Ohio. In fact, many school districts, including Sylvania schools already have this transportation model in place, we will expand this model in order to provide consistent and reliable transportation for all students in our Sylvania residential area. Then, this email goes out to the staff and the transportation manager chimes in with his comment, and the full comment from the email is, I would suggest adding to the last bullet point after K through 12. Colon, including the mix of non public and public kids, we don’t want the public parents to think all our buses will be going K through 12. Just a suggestion. So the manager is asking that it be pointed out that the public and non public students would be riding the same bus, but that not all of the buses would be including K through 12 riders, the plan is limited to where there will be public and non public students on the same bus. Of course, we don’t know 100% What the intention was in the forming of the talking points of the mind manager’s comments. But the terminology, the terminology is clear. Nowhere do they talk about religious schools or Catholic students in the entire email, they talk about public and non public students. Not all private schools are religious. And the state law also says non public. So just kind of taking a look just at a at a glance, just seeing the whole thing. It doesn’t appear to me that the school district is intending to single out religious students for dissimilar treatment. It just so happens that they are now going to have to participate in this model that other school other students have already participated in.

Doug Berger 22:06
So that tells me more that these, these cat these parents are these Catholic students have been getting special treatment until this year. And that’s why most likely, they’re more upset than actual first amendment violations. As we secular people have been told many times in recent court cases, the mere existence of something offensive to us, doesn’t mean it’s a violation. Unless it can be shown that the state intended to injure us being offended, is not in itself an injury. This is how the First Amendment is applied in secular cases. We know for a fact that the current Supreme Court US Supreme Court as a much broader view of First Amendment injury for religious people. They’ve widened the meaning of free exercise of the Free Exercise Clause, while ignoring the meaning of the establishment clause. So we get court cases where, for example, like the cake baker in Colorado, the court ruled in favor of the cake baker, because one of the commissioners on the Equal Opportunity board that was looking at the issue, said something derogatory about religion. And so the court said, Well, you made these decisions with an animosity towards religion, which wasn’t true, because they would have applied the same. They would have looked at the issue the same way, whether the whether the violation was the discrimination was coming from a religious person, or not a religious person. But because somebody said something derogatory about religion, the court claim that that tainted the action. All right. And so I can see that happening in this case that they’re going and that’s why they use that quote, because they’re trying to make it seem like that there was hostile to religion. And we know as secular people that that never happens for secular people. You know, we actually have to show our wounds. We actually we have to show proof of injury in most cases, like the cross the Battenburg, cross and Maryland. It’s, it’s offensive. It’s on public property. But it’s not just because it exists. The court said it does. It’s not a violation. See, because it doesn’t force you to pray, see how they say that. It doesn’t force you to pray, or to hold religious beliefs. It just exists. You know, forgetting the obvious point, that it’s an establishment of religion. And because it’s a Latin cross, pretty much making a claim that a state action upset your religious beliefs will bring relief from the court, even if the action at fault had a general application to everyone. And then, then I can have another example here. Closing churches during the height of the pandemic was ruled a violation by the US Supreme Court, simply because essential businesses like grocery stores were open. The court said treating churches differently than secular businesses was wrong. Now, it for the cases of regulations, maybe I don’t know, might be wrong. But for the for public health issues. There, that was just total bullshit. Church services, where you have a large number of people indoors, is has far more vectors of pandemic spread, especially if you’re singing hymns or praying out loud with no mask on which many of these people did. Then if then from people using a grocery, where you’re limited in the amount of time you’re in there, or you get delivery or pickup, so you don’t even go inside. And if you do go inside, you have a mask on? Well, you should have a mask on. And yeah, and you practice social distancing. They are not the same. A grocery in a church are not the same. treating them differently in this case, is not a violation. But the Supreme Court says it is to get back to the Sylvania bus thing. We know

Doug Berger 26:44
that these local parents are upset with change. And they’re using their religion to get special privileges or to make the district conform to what they want. They suggest they made a suggestion in their complaint, that to accommodate them, the district can just stop transporting high school students, they’re not required to do so. So to give them what they want to support their religious beliefs, hundreds of families would have to change their lives in a matter of weeks. Is that really fair? And I will point out to that state law is very specific about changing transportation plans after school starts. And this is kind of a tangent. But basically what happened was that a lot of conservatives got ticked off that school districts are using school transportation, as a cudgel, to get people to pass tax levies. And so what would happen is, there would be an election in November, a tax levy would go down. And one of the cuts that they would make is they would stop transporting high school students, since they’re not required to. So they would stop transporting high school students to save money. And parents got upset. Because now they had to totally rearrange their lives for these high school kids that needed to be transported. And it caused chaos and pandemonium, but this is what the religious parents believe should happen, so that their little Timmy and Jimmy and Janie, don’t have to ride with high school students. In the original complaint, one of the parents raised a concern that their child suffers from ADHD and needs medication at a certain time of day, and believes that the change of schedule could harm the child because they might miss their next dose. That’s a reasonable concern. It’s not a violation of the First Amendment. It’s something that could be worked through without having to up in the lives of hundreds of families. And although that claim wasn’t brought up in the amended complaint, the judge did mention harm to children in ruling that the district come up with another plan to accommodate the parents. And let me quote from the Toledo Blade that had the story that says while judge cook did not issue the temporary restraining order, she did order the district to reconfigure the plan by August 26. Agreeing with the parents that kindergarteners are ill served by riding buses with high school students, or waking at such an early hour, what she said is harmful. The judge when they quote the judge, they irreparable harm that would be relying on that I would be relying on is really the significant morning disruption in the early hours for children. They can’t get that back. She said it alters their day and not just their day. I can’t imagine kids getting up at 530 in the morning and functioning a full school day. At that point, they are physically working longer days than their parents. Jennifer Dawson, the district’s attorney disputed that the transportation proposals harmful and asked the judge to dismiss the restraining order, which, if granted would have caused chaos and pandemonium. And they go to great pains to file this complaint doing an amended complaint, citing all these first amendment violations that they claim has happened. And without consulting any actual children’s health IQ experts, the judge ruled that the current that new plan was harmful to children. She assumed that young children shouldn’t get up at 530 in the morning for school. And, and I just don’t get what is this thing. With adults complaining about young kids riding with teenagers on the bus. It isn’t like the teens are smoking and drinking or doing drugs on the bus or, or teaching them dirty songs or something like that. I mean, it’s pretty control, supposed to be pretty controlled on a bus. And as pointed out in the district email, K through 12. On the same bus is common in other districts, particularly in small rural districts. Not to mention, many of those kids have to get up early to catch a bus to get transported to a school and transferred to another bus to get sent to vacation vocational schools in the county. Because usually there’s only one vocational school in the county.

Doug Berger 31:37
And so you’ll have people traveling from like the northwest corner of the county to the south west corner of the county to go to vocational school, and you’re looking at an hour or two hours on the bus. Granted, that’s not a kindergartener doing that, but it happens. Also, many of these districts now have K through 12 on the same campus. How did they get there? Did they all take separate buses? No, this whole idea that kindergarteners shouldn’t ride the same bus as a high school seniors ridiculous. And for a judge to base their decision on a feeling like that is disappointing. Of course, the ultimate ironic thing about this whole case is that the Common Pleas Court judge didn’t rule on the First Amendment claims. She picked psychological or mental health issue, picked it out of the clouds, and told the district to redo the plan. Of course, probably none of this won’t matter. At this point, or by the 26th. I feel like the school will cave to the privileged parents to avoid a federal lawsuit. This is what secular groups do like Freedom From Religion Foundation. That’s what they use to get schools to change their behavior, when they are violating the rights of secular people is they threaten a lawsuit. And schools hate lawsuits, they just hate them. Because it takes time and money that that they’re in short supply of takes time and money to fight these lawsuits, even if even if they know that they could win it, there’s a possibility that they could lose it. So a lot of times, like many public entities, they just want to settle the case and be done with it. And so I think that’s what’s going to happen in this case is they’re going to reconfigure the plan to accommodate these two families specifically, and the families will be happy and they’ll call it a day until somebody else complaints. It feels odd to me that a method that’s been used quite often to protect the rights of marginalized groups, like atheists and agnostics and, and non Christians, is now being used by those in the majority to protect their privilege and power. It’s just very sad.

Doug Berger 34:14
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