The Debate Over Daytime Curfews

Published with Permission

Written by Antony Barone Kolenc

My family lives just a mile away from an excellent county library, which my homeschooled children can visit on a nice day in order to check out books for school research or additional reading. They enjoy the stroll with their older sister and feel empowered to use the library’s resources. But would they take that walk if they knew that a police officer would stop them, question them, and possibly ticket them or drive them home in the back of a police car? I think not.

That is just one example of potential harm that a daytime curfew poses for homeschooling families. These laws—a trend that began to catch on in cities and counties during the 1990s—prohibit minors from being in public places during school hours, often at the risk of a stiff fine or a hearing before a judge. Are these laws necessary, and do they really pose a risk to homeschoolers?  

Why a Daytime Curfew?

Proponents of daytime curfews are motivated by good intentions: to decrease juvenile crime and increase the high school graduation rate. Rarely, if ever, are such laws intended to target homeschoolers. In fact, those children taught at home are often excepted from the curfew rules. Yet homeschool advocacy groups, including the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), are among the most vocal opponents of these laws.

Statistics on the effectiveness of daytime curfews vary widely. For instance, in December 2011—during a debate on whether to enact such a law in Covington, Kentucky (a Cincinnati suburb), the acting police chief of neighboring Newport estimated that his town’s curfew had lowered the rate of daytime crimes committed by minors “probably by over 70 percent.”1 Yet others, such as Ken Adams, Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Central Florida, have studied the issue and suggest that these laws result in little statistical improvement to the juvenile crime rate and may even increase truancy.2

Whatever their actual impact, daytime curfews continue to be a popular means by which local governments address perceived juvenile problems. In 2011, cities and counties across the United States considered implementing these laws, passing them in towns such as Concord, California, and Covington, Kentucky, while rejecting passage in places such as Carlinville, Illinois, and Stoughton, Wisconsin.

Are These Laws Permissible?

Opponents of daytime curfews assert several reasons why such laws might be impermissible. To name just a few, they argue that such laws interfere with a minor’s constitutional rights to freedom of movement or to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures. These statutes might also be unconstitutionally vague, making it unclear exactly what conduct is prohibited. Further, they can infringe on parents’ rights to rear their children.

There are also concerns that curfews unfairly target minority students. Recently, the Los Angeles City Council considered changes to its law after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) raised various concerns, including the over-ticketing of Latino and African-American students.

Even where exceptions for home education are built into a daytime curfew, there is cause for concern. The chance that a child will experience an inconvenient and potentially intimidating encounter with police is likely to “chill” a homeschooler’s freedom to go outside during school hours. After all, there is no way for police to distinguish between a home-educated child and a truant public school student, unless the law also sets up an intrusive registration and ID card system.

The Supreme Court of the United States has never ruled on the constitutionality of a daytime juvenile curfew. And, despite legal challenges, some courts have upheld these curfews.3 However, other judges have found them to be problematic and impermissible on several grounds.4 Regardless of these mixed results, communities across the nation have passed, and continue to adopt, curfews as a matter of routine. Very few of them will ever face judicial scrutiny.

What Should Homeschoolers Do?

Daytime curfews have the potential to cause problems for homeschooling families. For that reason, I offer three points of advice in this area.

First, know whether there is currently a daytime curfew in place for your community and whether it contains an exception for homeschooled children. The time to learn the law is now, not when your child comes home in the back of a police car.

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