Note: This story was updated on April 1.
Daytime curfew laws, which generally prohibit youths from traveling unsupervised in public during school hours, appear to be popping up increasingly.
No group maintains good statistics, or any statistics, on trends in curfews around the country, particularly ones that govern the movement of youths in daylight. In 1995, the U.S. Conference of Mayors conducted a survey that found 72 cities with daytime curfew laws in effect for youths, in most cases covering anyone under the age of 18.
It might be time for another head count, perhaps this time by the National Association of Counties. A quick perusal of the headlines by JJ Today found that, in March alone, six jurisdictions have either passed a daytime curfew or are considering such a law.
The king of daytime curfews is Texas, where major cities such as Houston and Austin have been at it for years; Dallas joined the party last year. But a quick rundown of actions taken or pending – in March alone — concerning daytime curfews demonstrates the diversity of locations that believe they need to police youths’ action during the day:
Richmond, Calif.: Police are asking the city council for a curfew to address crime and truancy; school officials are supportive; some parents and students question how effective or fair the law will be.
Newberg, Ore.: The city council rejects daytime curfew law for second time, largely because of the concerns voiced by parents of home-schooled or private school students; meanwhile, the school board votes to approve its own measure to fine the parents of truants, which is usually the consequence for a daytime curfew violation.
Florence, S.C.: The city council passed a curfew in that requires youths to be inside or with their guardian from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m..
McFarland, Calif.: The city passed a curfew law this month; “Sometimes parents are not sure how to get kids in school. It’s just another resource for them to help them in that way,” McFarland Police Sgt. Alan Ghasserani told local television station KGET.
Montgomery County, Md.: The county council is weighing the possibility of implementing a daytime curfew modeled after one in Baltimore; the motive being that, in 2009, 8,600 Montgomery students were absent for at least 20 days and about 1,000 of those students were labeled “habitually truant,” or absent without an excuse at least one day per week, on average.
Clark County, Ark.: Justice of the Peace Jonathan Huber wants his fellow justices to pass an ordinance that would impose daytime and nighttime curfews on youths. If approved, youths in Clark County would be under curfew from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 11 p.m. until 5 a.m. during the school week. Similar curfews were recently enacted in nearby Saline County and the City of Gurdon, reports Daily Siftings Herald reporter Joe Phelps.
And those are just the curfews that some local newspaper or television station reported.
Meanwhile, Dallas’ experiment with daytime curfews is off to a rocky start to say the least, reports local news station DFW. The school district reports no “noticeable increase or decrease [in truancy] due to the daytime curfew,” and 70 percent of youths cited for curfew violations did not show up for their court appearance.
With daytime curfews, it frequently seems like one begets the next through the following policy rationale: a nearby town/city passed a daytime curfew to combat truancy; Judge X or Councilman Y believes we have a problem with truancy; ergo, we should pass a daytime curfew, too.
In the case of Dallas, the rationale seems legitimate even if the result has been unsuccessful. Dallas curfew proponents pointed to the Hurst-Euless-Bedford (H-E-B) school district, where unexcused absences dropped from 22,805 in 2008 to 13,800 last year after a daytime curfew was established and violation of it was made a misdemeanor.
Bedford Police Chief David Flory said the drop in absences is anedoctal evidence for him that the H-E-B curfew has been a “huge deterrent factor for kids” in the school district. But he wasn’t necessarily surprised that H-E-B’s approach wasn’t working for Dallas.
“Dallas is two or three million people, it’s different culturally [and] demographically,” Flory said. “Some things you can do in smaller places more successfully than in a big city.”
On the flip side, Montgomery County, Md., basing a daytime curfew on one in Baltimore is akin to taking marital advice from Tiger Woods.
“I’ve never really seen it work,” said Leigh Dalton, who was the truancy court program manager and school liaison for the University of Baltimore School of Law and now heads the York County Truancy Prevention Initiative in York, Pa.
Dalton said Baltimore had a decent thing going when school funding included the operation of a truancy assessment center, which connecting chronically absent youth to social services, according to Dalton.
A curfew that connected youth rounded up by police to such a center might work, Dalton said, as would ticketing businesses and restaurants that served unsupervised youth during school hours. “But in and of itself,” she said, “curfew laws are pretty useless.”
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