Monday, May 19, 2008

education - free eduction - child support is not "compensation"

Velazquez v. East Stroudsburg School District - Commonwealth Court - May 19, 2008

Under 24 P.S. 13-1302 and 22 Pa. Code 11.19, a child has a right to attend school without payment of tuition in the district in which his custodial grandmother lives, despite grandmother's receipt of court-ordered support from one of his parents.

The child had lived with his grandmother for most of his life. The child's father was incarcerated and the mother was living in North Carolina or Florida. The grandmother received public assistance and was required to seek support from the parents. That support was not "compensation" for maintaining the child. Despite the receipt of support, the grandmother was "supporting the child gratis as if it were [her] own."

The trial court "mischaracterized the child support payments received by [the grandmother] as compensation to reach its erroneous conclusion that she did not support the child gratis as if he were her own child. Parents are liable for support of their children who are unemancipated and 18 years of age or younger, 23 Pa. C.S. §4321(2), and parents must provide for reasonable expenses of raising their children....The order imposed against the child's mother was for payment of child support to fulfill her obligation to provide child care expenses for the child, not to compensate the grandmother for her services."

Furthermore, grandmother was required to seek child support from the parents under 55 Pa. Code §187.23(b)....Her receipt of public assistance is not deemed personal compensation or gain, see 22 Pa. Code §11.19(a), and it would be absurd to conclude that the child support payments represent personal compensation when she was required to seek the payments in order to receive public assistance.

The case sub judice is clearly distinguishable from Brenner ex rel. Johnson v. West Shore School District, 780 A.2d 726 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2001). Unlike the parents in Brenner, the child's parents are not involved in any of the child's daily needs, and his mother provides only minimal child support. The father is incarcerated, and his mother resides out of state. The grandmother is the child's sole caregiver and provides all of his daily needs. She continuously supports him throughout the year, not merely during the school term, and she assumes all responsibilities for meeting school requirements and for making education-related decisions in the absence of his parents....The Brenner holding, therefore, does not support the School District's position.

The purpose of Section 1302 of the School Code is to prevent district 11 shopping....The evidence fails to establish, and the School District does not suggest, that grandmother was engaged in district shopping when she sought to re-enroll Jher grandson in the School District. Because grandmother established the child's entitlement to receive free school privileges in the School District, the Court concludes that the trial court committed an error of law and accordingly reverses its order.

This case was litigated by the Education Law Center in Philadelphia