Will a Daytime Curfew Keep Kids in School?

Filed under: Opinions

In case you were feeling like a good parent this week, the city of Dallas wants to remind you that you're not. In order to combat juvenile crime, city officials are proposing a daytime curfew, with fines of up to $500 for kids who are out and about during the school day. You know, since parents -- and school officials -- are clearly not able to keep kids off the streets and in the classroom.

The deal is this: The new curfew would prohibit school-aged children from being off school grounds on their own between 9:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Monday though Friday. One Dallas school district, Hurst-Euless-Bedford, has already enacted the daytime curfew, which specifically prohibits anyone under 17 from being in a public place during school hours.

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The daytime curfew would have exceptions: Kids would be permitted off school grounds during the day for approved work-study programs, for example. They would also be excused for any approved absence, or for lunch breaks at schools with open campuses, or if they are supervised by a parent. Homeschooled students would also be exempted.

Kids found wandering the streets would be returned to school, and someone -- the student? the parents? -- could be fined.

The American Civil Liberties Union thinks the new daytime curfew is a bad idea because, they argue, it criminalizes children. The City Council's goal in instituting a daytime curfew is specifically to reduce juvenile crime, but their approach seems to be to assume that every kid under the age of 17 is a potential criminal. The ACLU also argues that the curfew interferes with parental rights. I don't know about interfering with parent's rights, but the curfew does seem to imply that a lot of Dallas area parents aren't doing a very good job of keeping tabs on their kids. After all, they're sending them off to school and assuming that they will stay there! Oh no!

I'm all for kids getting into trouble if they're ditching school, but this extra curfew just sounds idiotic to me. Unless there are gangs of Dallas school kids roaming the malls during Algebra class, it's hard to imagine that there really needs to be a whole new law to take care of this. And the exemptions -- open campuses, approved absences, homeschooling -- seem pretty vague. Who's going to monitor that? Teachers? School officials? Police? Don't they already have full-time jobs?

And while I tend to find the ACLU a little over dramatic at times, I think they're dead on this time: The underlying assumption here is that any kid off school grounds during the day is looking to commit a crime, rather than just skipping Spanish because the weather is nice or it's Tuesday or all the other innocuous reasons kids have for missing school. I'm not saying it's okay for kids to play hooky, but it's not a crime, and the majority of parents don't need a law to help them manage their kids.

Would you feel safer if your community had a daytime curfew? Or do you feel like you're a responsible enough parent to take care of the problem if your child is ditching school?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.