Home Education Magazine
March-April 1999 - Columns
Taking Charge - Curfews and Homeschoolers
Larry and Susan Kaseman
As homeschoolers, we need to be informed about daytime curfews for several reasons.
* Although only a few communities have enacted curfews so far, the number is increasing.
* Curfews undermine everyone's basic freedoms.
* Our efforts to oppose curfews are much more likely to be effective if we act now, before curfews are proposed in our community, or at least are prepared to act immediately if they are proposed in our community.
* We may be drawn into debates about how curfews can be made less inconvenient for homeschoolers. This shifts the focus away from the serious issues. There are no "good" curfews.
Daytime curfews require that police stop and question young people who appear to be of school age but are not in a school building during conventional school hours. Those who cannot provide a convincing reason for not being in school are either fined or taken into custody.
It is often surprisingly and frighteningly easy to get curfews passed by town, city, or county governments. Proponents of curfews claim that curfews are needed to combat truancy and juvenile crime. Although serious juvenile crime rates are the lowest in 30 years, many people still fear and distrust young people, partly because the media gives so much attention to sensational crime.
In addition, supporters of curfews claim that truancy is increasing. Actually, it's not clear whether truancy is increasing, because legal definitions of truancy are being changed. For example, Wisconsin law used to define as a habitual truant any student who was absent without an acceptable excuse for 5 days out of 10 or for 10 days throughout a semester. As a result of recent legislation, any student who is absent without an acceptable excuse for 5 days during a semester is now considered a habitual truant (and some school districts count being 5 minutes late to class as an absence). Obviously there will be more "habitual truants" in Wisconsin this year than there were last year, and it will be impossible to compare this year's statistics with last year's in any meaningful way.
It is often difficult to convince people to oppose curfews. Many people do not stop to think about how curfews threaten basic freedoms. Those who fear crime or are shocked by truancy may feel curfews are necessary. Parents whose children are not truants assume that curfews will not affect their family, so they don't need to bother to oppose curfews.
It is especially important that we homeschoolers oppose curfews, perhaps assuming leadership roles. We understand more clearly than many people how government regulation can interfere with learning and family life, and we have experience working together to oppose harmful legislation.
Sending an Open Letter
One way we can share our concerns about curfews with others is by sending an open letter. We could send it now, as a preventative, to our town board or city council, our county governing body and our state legislators, and as a letter to the editor of our local paper. If curfews are proposed, introduced, or passed, we can send such a letter to the governing body involved and our local paper.
See an example of such a letter.
Feel free to use any ideas or language here that you find helpful, choosing the parts that are most likely to make sense to your audience.
Preventing Discussions About Curfews from Focusing on Homeschoolers
A basic strategy for homeschoolers who are opposing curfews is to keep attention focused on the ways in which curfews threaten everyone's freedom. Because curfews are at best an inconvenience and often an obstacle to the ability of homeschoolers to learn, volunteer, and work in our communities during school hours, it may be tempting to focus our attention on figuring out ways to protect our children from being stopped by police or at least from being taken into custody. However, if we do this, we provide those who support curfews with a golden opportunity. They can make it appear that the most serious problem with curfews is the way they affect homeschoolers (and perhaps other young people with a legitimate reason to be out of school). This directs attention away from questions such as how curfews affect everyone's freedom and whether they are constitutional. It allows people to think that curfews would be acceptable if a way could be figured out to avoid inconveniencing homeschoolers and others with acceptable reasons to be out of school.
Often when homeschoolers oppose curfews, officials respond by saying, "Well, then, how can we protect your children from being taken into custody? What if the school district issued ID cards your children could carry at all times and show to police who stop them? What if we gave them neon tags to wear around their necks so the police wouldn't even stop them? [At least one community actually distributed tags so that police wouldn't jump to the conclusion that young people were reaching for a weapon when they reached in their pockets for their ID card.} What if we gave them yellow arm bands...."
As homeschoolers, we can help keep the discussion of curfews focused on the real questions by making points such as:
* Curfews are not a homeschooling issue. They threaten everyone's freedom.
* There is no such thing as a good curfew. We are opposed to the basic idea of making it illegal to be in a public place. We will not compromise. We will not agree to a curfew that supposedly exempts homeschoolers. In addition, curfews are not an effective way to deal with problems of truancy and juvenile crime. For example, a study of communities in California with strictly enforced curfews concluded: "The current available data provides no basis to the belief that curfew laws are an effective way for communities to prevent youth crime and keep young people safe. On virtually every measure, no discernible effect on juvenile crime was observed. In fact, in many jurisdictions serious juvenile crime increased at the very time officials were toting the crime reduction effects of strict curfew enforcement." (From "The Impact of Juvenile Curfew Laws in California," by the Justice Policy Institute in San Francisco. Copies of this 12 page report are available at www.cjcj.org/jpi/reports.html.)
As homeschoolers, we need to be prepared to oppose curfews, keeping the focus on the fact that curfews undermine basic freedoms and not letting the discussion shift to ways in which curfews can be fixed so they don't interfere with homeschoolers' community activities.
© 1999, Larry and Susan Kaseman
Open Letter About Curfews to Parents, Elected Officials, and Other Citizens
Summary: Curfews that prohibit young people from being in public places may at first glance seem like one possible approach to problems of truancy and juvenile crime. However, further thought shows that curfews undermine civil liberties, are difficult to enforce fairly, and promote submission of citizens to the power of the state. Therefore, people from every political persuasion oppose curfews.
Background: A few communities around the nation are considering curfews. Daytime curfews usually require police to stop anyone who appears to be compulsory school age who is in a public place during public school hours. Those who cannot provide acceptable justification for their presence are ticketed or taken into custody.
To understand some of the problems caused by curfews, consider the following questions:
* Are we prepared to sacrifice important civil liberties in exchange for curfews? Allowing police to stop, question, and take into custody young people simply because they are in a public place during "school hours" or between 10 pm and 6 am would violate civil liberties, including the following:
-Presumption of innocence. Alleged curfew violators are stopped simply because they look younger than 18 and are in a public place during restricted hours. -Protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Are being young and being in a public place good enough reasons to be stopped by the police?
-Right to privacy.
-Common sense freedom to move around and be in public places.
* Do we want to undermine the role of parents in this way? Curfews mean that police are taking over the role of parents and local communities. Without curfews, parents, friends, neighbors, and other community members interact with young people, supervise their activities when necessary, and provide the guidance and direction they need. Curfews say in essence that parents and the larger community cannot be trusted to raise and discipline children. Supporting curfews is very different from saying we need laws to deal with irresponsible parents. (Actually, we already have many laws to deal with such parents.)
* Do we want to send our young people such a negative message? Curfews tell young people that they are not welcome and do not have a place in our society, that adults expect them to cause trouble and are afraid of them. Such messages cause many problems, especially since people tend to act in ways that are expected of them. Curfews encourage people to interpret young people's behavior negatively and assume the worst. How can we expect young people to take their places as responsible members of our community if we send them this kind of message?
* How do we deal with the fact that curfews are threatening to young people who have legitimate reasons for being in public places during school hours? These young people include: those excused from school for medical appointments or other reasons; work-study students; tourists and other visitors from outside the school district; private school students whose schools are on vacation; and homeschoolers involved in community activities, field trips, or hands-on learning. Ways of dealing with these innocent young people are disastrous to a free society. Some communities have issued ID cards to them. At least one community requires that people register at the police station where they are given fluorescent orange tags which they are encouraged to wear around their necks because if they reached in their pocket for their tag, a police officer might think they were reaching for a gun. Do we want to set the precedent of requiring innocent people to carry ID cards or wear tags in order to move about in public places?
* Are we prepared to have our own children and/or grandchildren stopped by the police? Many parents assume that their children will not be stopped because they are not trouble makers or truants and do not look like criminals. However, in order to enforce the law fairly, all young people should be stopped.
* Are we ourselves ready to be stopped by police? If we set the dangerous precedent of allowing young people to be stopped and questioned, we need to be prepared for this tactic to be used against other people, including us. Our outrage at the idea of police stopping people without reasonable evidence that they are breaking the law is essential to preventing our government from becoming a police state. (Note: This is not intended to criticize police officers as individuals. If anything, curfews make their jobs more difficult and unpopular.)
* Do we want to put police in the awkward position of stopping large numbers of people who turn out to be innocent? Curfews create a lot of stress between police and young people, who begin to regard police with fear and hostility rather than respect, beginning at age six.
* Do we want to teach our children that they should surrender their basic liberties, should expect to be stopped by the police even when they are not doing anything wrong, and should surrender to such unreasonable use of force? Young people who do not cooperate when they are stopped are likely to get into greater difficulty. The future of our freedom is in our children's hands. Do we want them growing up expecting not to have much freedom?
* On what grounds can curfews be considered necessary? There are already laws to deal with truancy, juvenile crime, disturbing the peace, loitering, etc. When proponents of curfews argue that curfews are needed to make it easier for police to pick up young people, aren't they in fact admitting that police want to pick up young people who are not doing anything illegal? Doesn't that mean that these young people are presumed guilty until they prove their innocence, rather than the other way around?
* How much will it cost to provide the extra police and government personnel needed to process offenders whether it be ticketing children and their parents; reporting truancy to schools, social services, and the courts; going through processes of appeals; dealing with charges of unequal enforcement and discrimination; etc.? How will this sizable expense be covered?
Having considered questions such as these, we strongly oppose curfews and ask that you work to ensure that curfews are not enacted in our community.
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