Appeal from the Friend, Circuit Court of St. Clair County. Honorable Vincent J. Lopinot, Judge, presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Welch
NOTICE Decision filed 06/18/12. The text of NO. 5-11-0390 this decision may be changed or corrected prior to the filing of a IN THE Petition for Rehearing or the disposition of the same.
JUSTICE WELCH delivered the opinion of the court, with opinion. Justices Chapman and Spomer concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 This case of first impression involves the construction of section 29-4 of the School Code, which provides in pertinent part as follows: "Pupils attending a charter school or nonpublic school. The school board of any school district that provides any school bus or conveyance for transporting pupils to and from the public schools shall afford transportation, without cost, for children who attend a charter school or any school other than a public school, who reside at least 11/2 miles from the school attended, and who reside on or along the highway constituting the regular route of such public school bus or conveyance, such transportation to extend from some point on the regular route nearest or most easily accessible to their homes to and from the school attended, or to or from a point on such regular route which is nearest or most easily accessible to the school attended by such children. *** If any such children reside within 11/2 miles from the school attended, the school board shall afford such transportation to such children on the same basis as it provides transportation to its own pupils residing within that distance from the school attended.
Nothing herein shall be construed to preclude a school district from operating separate regular bus routes, subject to the limitations of this Section, for the benefit of children who attend a charter school or any school other than a public school where the operation of such routes is safer, more economical and more efficient than if such school district were precluded from operating separate regular bus routes." 105 ILCS 5/29-4 (West 2006).
¶ 2 The plaintiffs, C.E. and C.L., by their guardian and next friend, Geneva Jackson, N.C., by her guardian and next friend, Deborah Thomas, and C.M., K.M., and A.M., by their mother and next friend, Cassi Issac, are elementary school students who reside within the East St. Louis School District No. 189, but who attend a local parochial school, Sister Thea Bowman Catholic School. All of the plaintiffs reside more than 11/2 miles from their school and need assistance with transportation to and from school. They filed a complaint in the circuit court of St. Clair County seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the Board of Education of East St. Louis School District No. 189 and Theresa Saunders, superintendent of the East St. Louis School District No. 189, in her official capacity, for their failure to provide transportation for the plaintiffs to and from school on days when the plaintiffs' school is in session but the public schools are not.
¶ 3 For some time prior to the 2009-10 school year, the defendant school district had provided bus service to students of Sister Thea Bowman Catholic School on all days when that school was in session, even on those days that the public schools were not. However, toward the end of the 2009-10 school year, the Catholic school was informed that the district would only be providing transportation on those days when the public schools were in session. During the 2010-11 school year there were approximately 15 days on which the district did not provide transportation for students of the Catholic school because the public schools were not in session.
¶ 4 Both parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and in an order entered August 11, 2011, the circuit court of St. Clair County entered judgment in favor of the defendants, holding that no section of the School Code requires the school district to provide transportation in excess of what it provides for its own students, and that the pertinent sections of the School Code are written "with an eye toward the cost, convenience and efficiency of the District." The court concluded that the cost, convenience, and efficiency of the district would be strained if the court ordered it to provide transportation to students of Sister Thea Bowman Catholic School and that school decided to drastically expand its school year. Accordingly, the court concluded that section 29-4 of the School Code does not require the defendants to provide transportation for students of Sister Thea Bowman Catholic School on days that the public schools are not in session, and that this construction of the statute does not contravene the legislative intent in enacting section 29-4, nor does it endanger the health or safety of the students. The plaintiffs appeal, arguing that the circuit court's construction of the statute is wrong as a matter of law.
¶ 5 Summary judgment is proper where the pleadings, affidavits, depositions, admissions, and exhibits on file, when viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, reveal that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. DesPain v. City of Collinsville, 382 Ill. App. 3d 572, 576-77 (2008). The interpretation of a statute is a matter of law and is thus appropriate for a summary judgment. DesPain, 382 Ill. App. 3d at 577. Statutory interpretation issues and summary judgment rulings are both reviewed de novo. DesPain, 382 Ill. App. 3d at 577.
¶ 6 When interpreting a statute, the primary objective is to ascertain and give effect to the legislative intent, the surest and most reliable indicator of which is the statutory language itself, given its plain and ordinary meaning. DesPain, 382 Ill. App. 3d at 577. When determining the plain meaning of a statute's terms, the court must consider the statute in its entirety, bearing in mind the subject that it addresses and the apparent intent of the legislature in enacting it. DesPain, 382 Ill. App. 3d at 577. In addition, the statute should be read as a whole and construed so that no part of it is rendered meaningless or superfluous. DesPain, 382 Ill. App. 3d at 577. A court should consider each part or section of a legislative act in connection with every other part or section, and not each part alone, in determining the purpose or intent of the legislature. DesPain, 382 Ill. App. 3d at 577-78.
¶ 7 Where the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous, a court must apply it as written, without resort to extrinsic aids of statutory construction and without reading into it exceptions, limitations, or conditions that the legislature did not express. Wood v. North Wamac School District No. 186, 386 Ill. App. 3d 874, 876 (2008). If the language is ambiguous, that is, susceptible to two equally reasonable and conflicting interpretations, it is proper to examine extrinsic sources to ascertain the legislative intent. Wood, 386 Ill. App. 3d at 876.
¶ 8 There is no question that the plaintiffs meet the requirements of the statute in terms of their distance from their school and their location on or along the regular route of the public school bus. The only question is whether the district must provide bus service on days when the district schools are not in session but the Catholic school is in session.
¶ 9 The circuit court found that "[t]he statute is not ambiguous in what it requires, but it does not specifically address the issue raised" in the case. Indeed, the statute is silent on the question before us. However, with or without the aid of extrinsic evidence, we agree with the circuit court that the legislative intent is that transportation be provided to nonpublic school students only on the same basis on which it is provided to public school students, and that the purposes of the ...