September 15, 2010

Proposed Mobile Daytime Curfew Defeated

At its meeting on September 13, 2011, the Mobile City Council voted down a proposed daytime curfew ordinance that would have directly impacted homeschooling families. Council rules require that at least five of the seven council members vote in favor of this type of ordinance in order for it to pass, but only four did so. This decision by the council was the culmination of more than two months of highly charged rhetoric between proponents and opponents of the curfew ordinance authored by Mayor Samuel L. Jones.

As originally drafted, the ordinance would have created curfew hours for minors between 9:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on weekdays when the public schools were in session. A minor was defined as “any person 17 years of age and under, who has not been emancipated under Alabama law.” But Alabama’s compulsory school attendance law only extends to age 17 (16 for children in church schools), so the proposed curfew ordinance would have prohibited persons who were not subject to the compulsory attendance law from being in public places during school hours.

In an apparent effort to accommodate the varying schedules of students receiving home instruction from their parents, a “home-schooled minor” was defined in the original proposal as “a child who has been issued a certificate of exemption by the Superintendent of the Mobile County School System or from the Superintendent of an applicable city school system.” A homeschool student with such a certificate would have been permitted to be in a public place during curfew hours with the consent of the student’s parent or guardian. However, with no specifications in the ordinance for who was entitled to the certificate of exemption, the superintendent would have been free to exercise his or her sole discretion in granting or denying the exemption.

In response to the outcry by home educators and letters from Home School Legal Defense Association and the Southeast Law Institute in Birmingham, Mayor Jones revised the proposed ordinance to align the age of minors to be affected by the curfew with state compulsory attendance law. Jones also deleted the provision for issuance of a certificate of exemption for homeschoolers by the local superintendent. In spite of these changes, homeschoolers continued to oppose any form of curfew that would have restricted the freedom of citizens to be in public places during the daytime. Even with the improved language, law-abiding minors could still have been stopped, questioned by police, and required to provide proof that they were not in violation of the ordinance.

Thanks to all who fought in this battle to preserve the civil liberties of families in Mobile.