March 23, 2011

Stoughton Retreats from Daytime Curfew and “Intermittent Attendance” Threat

When the Stoughton City Council recently proposed a comprehensive truancy ordinance that included a daytime curfew, Alderman Steve Tone quickly informed the homeschool community. The opposition which followed persuaded the police chief to withdraw his support, and the daytime curfew was dropped from the ordinance.

But when HSLDA Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff carefully reviewed the rest of the proposal, he noticed that it criminalized “intermittent attendance.” Not being familiar with that rather odd phrase, he researched the relevant statutes and cases, and came to three important conclusions: (1) Wisconsin state law does not criminalize “intermittent attendance”; (2) Wisconsin state law does not permit towns to criminalize it; and (3) the phrase “intermittent attendance” is outrageously vague.

The proposed ordinance forbade and set punishments for “intermittent attendance,” but never defined it. Imagine punishing someone for an undefined crime! Furthermore, the phrase’s vagueness seemed calculated to make it a perfect tool to intimidate families who might pull their kids out of public school once or twice before finally making up their minds about homeschooling.

Woodruff wrote up his legal analysis and sent it to Alderman Tone for presentation to the Stoughton city attorney who was responsible for drafting the ordinance. When significant time passed with no response from the city attorney, HSLDA asked Stoughton families to make calls to oppose the criminalization of “intermittent attendance.”

The day before the Stoughton Public Safety Committee was scheduled to meet and take up the ordinance, the city attorney acknowledged Woodruff’s legal analysis and deleted the phrase “intermittent attendance.”

We urge families to keep a careful eye on their town and city government. HSLDA does not have the ability to monitor town and city councils continuously. When bad proposals are put forth, we rely on local families to notify us. Then we can help the homeschool community prepare a strong and unified response.