August 12, 2008

Daytime Curfew a Bad Idea

Rock Springs, Wyoming, Mayor Timothy Kaumo reportedly said that “it takes a community to raise a child,” as the Rock Springs City Council reviewed an ordinance proposed by the city’s Chief of Police Mike Lowell and the office of City Attorney Vincent Crow. Their ordinance is based on the controversial Monrovia California Truancy Ordinance.

Apparently Attorney Crow and Chief Lowell didn’t realize that HSLDA successfully challenged a prior Monrovia ordinance that was struck down as unconstitutional in 1999. A subsequent ordinance that explicitly exempted homeschoolers was challenged by HSLDA, but the California Supreme Court denied review, leaving the issue as to its legitimacy open.

The Rock Springs ordinance is poorly drafted. It would bar any minor from the streets of the city while public school is in session, except in a handful of cases. While the exceptions exist, the real issue is whether we want the police stopping law-abiding citizens who aren’t doing anything wrong, harassed just because they look like they should “be in school” and have to prove otherwise? This would defy the principle in America that you are innocent until proven guilty.

When confronted with concerns about homeschoolers, the city officials wrongly pointed out that “homeschoolers should be in school during the same time as public schools anyway.” When challenged on this point, the officials pointed out that “homeschoolers could be issued ID Cards.” Chief Lowell was reported to say that he would avoid selective enforcement by “stopping all students.” In other words, everyone who appears to be 18 or under would be at risk of being stopped by the Rock Springs Police and having to prove why they aren’t in school. Not a very freedom-friendly solution.

In Wyoming, homeschoolers are not required to maintain the same calendar as the public schools. Neither are private schools, which would also be affected by this overly broad and unnecessary ordinance. Wyoming law already prescribes truancy law and requires that local school boards hire attendance officers, who must issue complaints and take other steps against parents when children are habitually truant. Homeschoolers, nor any child, should not have to provide a city issued ID to be allowed to travel around the city. Such ideas are the storylines in novels like 1984 and do not have a place in American civil government.

Unfortunately, Rock Springs is taking a typical big government response to a problem—instead of enforcing the laws on the books, officials want to pass a new law and give the police wide-ranging power to trample civil liberties under the guise of “truancy”.

One person who testified claimed that “parents” were asking for this improved ordinance to allow the police to pick up their own children. The truth is that truancy is a problem for public schools, and police are not hired to be babysitters. Police have all the power they need to stop crimes and arrest criminals. If children who aren’t attending school are causing trouble, they can be arrested and prosecuted. If it turns out they are truant, there are laws for addressing the problem that already on the books.

The only thing a new “truancy” ordinance in Rock Springs will do is give the police more power to harass innocent kids and to arbitrarily enforce an overreaching ordinance that will allow the city to fine the minor $750 dollars and put him or her in jail for up to six months. One wonders where the minor will get the money, and how it is that the jails have so much space that they are making room for “truants”.

One adult present noted that even if homeschoolers were specifically exempted, it wouldn’t take long for the truly unruly children to figure out that all they had to do was claim they were homeschooled.

Rather than take time and energy to create a new ordinance, the City of Rock Springs should invest its resources in enforcing the current law to solve the problem of truants and avoid the un-American solution of a day time curfew.

HSLDA has created a resource page for the Rock Springs Wyoming curfew for any who are interested in sharing their thoughts with the leaders in that community.

 Other Resources

HSLDA’s Memo Opposing Proposed Rock Springs Daytime Curfew >> (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

HSLDA’s Memo Cover Letter >> (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)