Home Education Magazine
January-February 1997 - Articles
Truancy, Curfews and Our Response - Janie Levine Hellyer
Many of us grew up in communities with Truant Officers - the men and women in charge of assuring that all children were in school each day. The Truant Officer in our town made regular early morning visits to the bowling alley, the doughnut shop and other teen "hang-outs," then made his way out into the community, checking on unexcused absences and kids turned in by friends and neighbors. My community also had a curfew: kids under 18 were not supposed to be on the streets after 10 pm on weekdays, midnight on weekends. White middle class kids were seldom cited for violating these laws, and by the early 1970's curfew laws and the Truant Officer had all but disappeared from the scene. But a publication from the federal government this past summer has brought back the notion that law enforcement and schools should work hand-in-hand to combat truancy. It recommends creating tough new policies to deal with children and young people who, under compulsory attendance laws, should be in school.
In July, 1996, the U.S. Department of Education in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice issued a "Manual to Combat Truancy." The manual speaks of truancy as "the first sign of trouble," and "a gateway to crime." It encourages communities to involve parents, ensure that students face firm sanctions for truancy, create meaningful incentives for parental responsibility, establish ongoing truancy prevention programs in school, and involve local law enforcement in truancy reduction efforts. The manual then goes on to describe what it calls "successful models of new anti-truancy initiatives" in communities across the nation. Statistics are provided that hold up truancy prevention efforts beside crime reduction figures. Sources for funding, training and technical assistance to communities are offered. In response, communities across the country are setting in place ordinances and regulations. In early October, we asked families to tell us what they were seeing and how the new regulations were affecting their families and communities.
Will Shaw of Virginia Home Education Association wrote, "The Town Council of Front Royal, Virginia recently passed a day-time curfew to go along with its long-standing night-time curfew. The proposed ordinance was strongly opposed by homeschoolers. It passed anyway, with some modifications that exempt homeschoolers. But it leaves all minors, including homeschoolers, guilty until they prove otherwise. That is, they must satisfy the local constable that they are homeschoolers." He went on to say that this curfew is tied to public school days and hours to address what is nearly a non-existent problem in their community: daytime juvenile crime.
A Chicago mother told us about the daylight curfew proposals in her community, then states "I believe that the curfew restrictions are an absolute violation of rights. My daughter now attends a private school with different days off than the public schools. Curfew laws would restrict her from walking downtown for ice cream or groceries during the school day."
While many communities have listened to homeschool families and private schools and have made exemptions, some have set into place regulations that affect every school-aged child. In Tulsa, OK, the situation has already confronted one homeschool family and has the potential to affect all families, regardless of where their children are being educated. Oklahoma is the only state in the union that has a constitutional amendment making homeschooling a "right." The burden of proof falls to the state when they accuse a family of not providing an education to their children. For this reason we were more than a little surprised to receive the following note regarding a 5th grade homeschooler:
"The boy was out riding his bike taking a break for P.E., about 1:00 in the afternoon. A neighbor called the local board of education and in turn, they called the local police department. When the police arrived, the boy was back in the house. The mother had run to the store and the two children were at home with the father, who sleeps during the day as he works nights. Not knowing any better, the children let the policeman in and woke their father up. The police asked what books and curriculum they were using and was shown this by the children. When they were satisfied that the parents were homeschooling, they communicated to the father that the children needed to stay in the house during school hours."
Upon calling a support group after hearing this story, a Tulsa mother shares: "What he said still confounds me. First off, he informed me of a new law either on the books or about to be. A child found without a parent can now be detained and taken into custody awaiting the parents coming to get him Secondly, he had just been contacted by a police officer in a small surrounding community in which they suspected the parents were not homeschooling and were considering what action to take. He expressed the fact that there was a real threat that children reported for truancy and sufficient records not available could mean trouble and possible conviction by the local DA. In closing he said he really didn't see what the problem was. The mother should just keep her child in during school hours and there wouldn't be any further problems. This really bothered me."
In Alaska, the Anchorage Municipal Assembly continues to work on their proposed truancy ordinance. One citizen writes that while they are working with families to avoid problems, if passed this ordinance will "subject homeschool children and parents to possible citations and fines if a child is picked up by the Anchorage police during public school hours. If you have an exemption from the States' compulsory public school attendance status, you will not be cited or fined, although you many have to go through some process to prove that your family is exempt. If you do not have an exemption, you may be cited, fined and may, at the discretion of the police officer, receive a home visit from an intake worker from the Office of Alaska Department of Family and Youth Services." The last word we received from Alaska was that the term "excused absence" was being replaced with simply "absence," giving school authorities the power to investigate any child who is not at school, whether the parents called in and stated that the child was ill or not.
"Curfew Fever" is the term we've heard from those in California who are fighting either proposed or current daytime curfew ordinaces. According to Diana Ausick of San Jose, an ISP student in Norwalk was cited for curfew violation as he rode his skateboard in front of his own home last spring. His ISP, the HCL Boston School, spoke on his behalf as a private school authority and fines were avoided. Other California communities are also confronting truancy and curfew ordinances.
From Fairfield, CA - "We have truancy regulations: They've just started their daytime hours curfew (8:30 -1:30) where the kids can not be out. They have exceptions such as a school pass for a doctor's appointment or if the kids are escorted by a parent. The thing that really bugs me about this is that it covers all public areas such as the library and community centers. The superintendent in our area had a "it doesn't matter what type of program the kids are in, they should be studying during these hours" quote in the papers. We were hoping to have our kids continue to be out in the community at all hours, but I find I'm not sure how far I want to push this. Most of all I wish they'd leave the library alone. Curfews are not the answer."
From Orange County, CA - "Here in Orange County nearly every city has a daytime curfew ordinance either recently passed or in the process of hearings. The argument is that the education code that contains the truancy law is too clumsy and difficult to enforce, so this is a way to give police the chance to pick up kids who are just "hangin' out" during school hours. "
Some homeschool families have accepted these new regulations as a part of life and necessary for curbing crime in their communities. I received a note from one homeschooler stating, "It's not really a big deal to get around the curfew. All I have to do in my area is get a little picture ID from the police department that says I'm homeschooled. I never worry abut the curfew, even when I'm out alone without my ID."
Is this a "homeschool" problem? We are seeing how many homeschool families and groups have worked hand-in-hand with local officials to ensure that homeschoolers are not negatively affected by these regulations. Should we not, however, be concerned with freedom for all young people, regardless of where they are being educated? According to many, these new regulations are once again being enforced disproportionately against children and teens of color and those who look "different."
Those who support civil liberties for young people are taking stands opposing these curfew regulations. As the mother of a homeschooled teenager, I oppose any ordinance or regulation that would keep my son or any other young person from accepting a daytime job, visiting the public library or simply going to the store to buy milk. Once again, we need to stand together and fight these regulations which will essentially put all children under "house arrest" until they reach the acceptable age.
The Christian Science Monitor daily web site has linked a story on truancy to this article.
Meet Jeff, Reformed Truant.
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