Daytime Curfews and Loitering Ordinances: Background Information & Open Letter
Recently homeschoolers working together, using WPA’s materials in part, effectively stopped a proposed daytime loitering/curfew ordinance in Stoughton. Materials included information developed by WPA 13 years ago, which is still very useful. Although several communities in Wisconsin have adopted such ordinances before homeschoolers became aware of the proposals, the ordinances are not enforced uniformly. However, they could pose a problem for homeschoolers if they are enforced uniformly.
Since homeschoolers have been successful in stopping ordinances both in Stoughton and in other communities in the late 1990s, it is important to oppose such an ordinance.
Please inform WPA if a daytime curfew or an ordinance prohibiting loitering by school age children during public school hours is being considered in your community.
To find out about potential ordinances in your community, you can share your concerns with one or more of your local elected municipal representatives and/or your county board representative, perhaps using materials like the open letter below. Ask them to notify you if such an ordinance is proposed. You can also check the agenda before each meeting. Some agendas are posted online.
Key points to keep in mind include:
• Daytime curfews and loitering ordinances affect homeschoolers but they are not primarily homeschooling issues. They affect everyone in the community. Curfews also violate civil liberties and cause other problems. (See the open letter below for an explanation.)
• Daytime curfews and ordinances prohibiting loitering by minors during public school hours allow police to question, ticket, and/or take children into custody.
• It is important to consider both whether a community has a daytime curfew ordinance and how it is enforced.
• Daytime curfews affect all school-age children. As homeschoolers we are very strongly affected because curfews seriously limit what we can do during conventional schools hours. They can mean that, unless homeschoolers are accompanied by a parent or another adult, they may be stopped and questioned when they go to a library or museum, travel to volunteer work or service projects, go to a nearby park for recess or physical education, etc., during curfew hours. Homeschoolers with drivers licenses cannot drive during curfew hours. In addition, curfew ordinances assume that private schools (including homeschools) should follow public school hours, holidays, and days off.
• 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.
• Daytime curfews and loitering ordinances are unnecessary. Supporters of curfews often cite problems with truancy and juvenile crime as reasons for curfews. However, statutes already exist to deal with these issues.
Open Letter to Parents, Elected Officials, and Other Citizens March 2011
Daytime Curfews Undermine Everyone’s Basic Freedoms
Summary: Daytime curfews and ordinances prohibiting loitering by school age children during conventional school hours 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, curfews are opposed by people from every political persuasion.
Background: Daytime curfews usually allow 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” 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. We don’t need curfews to deal with truancy or juvenile crime since there are already laws to deal with these. Curfews give police the authority to stop and question innocent young people.
—A curfew is a serious invasion of privacy, infringes on common sense freedoms to move around and be in public places, and violates the Fourth Amendment, which states that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and other effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Are being young and being in a public place good enough reasons to be stopped by the police?
• How can young people who have legitimate reasons for being in public places during school hours be protected from unreasonable questioning? 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; homeschoolers involved in community activities, field trips, or hands-on learning. Some of the ways that have been tried to protect innocent young people are inconsistent with a free society. Some communities have issued ID cards to them. At least one community in Wisconsin several years ago required that people register at the police station where they were given fluorescent orange tags which they were 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 for a curfew to be uniformly enforced, all young people should be stopped. Can we really be sure our children will not be in a public place, during public school hours, without us, between now and when they look like they are over 18 years old?
• Are we ourselves ready to be stopped by the 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. Once we get used to the idea of police routinely questioning people, we will have lost an important commitment to freedom and a critical safeguard of our freedom. Our outrage at the idea of police stopping people without reasonable evidence that they are breaking a reasonable 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 put a lot of stress between police and young people, who begin to regard police fearfully and hostilely rather than respectfully, 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?
• 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.
• 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. They also establish school and the police as primary caretakers of children, rather than parents. Curfews assume that adults don’t know how to relate to young people and deal with them, that police are needed. 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?
• Are parents willing either to accompany their children everywhere during school hours or risk their being stopped and questioned?
• On what grounds can curfews be considered necessary? Schools already know who truants and their parents are. Existing law provides ways to deal with truants and youthful offenders.
• How will we ensure that the law is uniformly enforced, that everyone is stopped and not just young people that the police think look suspicious? It would be expensive and difficult to enforce curfews fairly, since it would require stopping every young person not accompanied by an adult. As a result, curfews would be likely to be enforced selectively, which violates individuals’ civil rights.
• How much would 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 would 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. Thank you.