My teenage son was arrested for violating the daytime curfew law. It happened around 11:30 one morning when he and two of his classmates stopped at a 7-Eleven for some snacks. The Chula Vista police officer who contacted them put them in her vehicle and drove them to their school.
My son had never had any previous contact with a police officer, so he was understandably confused and especially anxious when the officer told him that there was a $250 fine associated with this infraction.
What made this situation so unbelievable was that my son and his classmates were not truant at the time they were arrested, and although the police officer was aware of this, she still insisted that they had violated the city’s curfew law. These boys were enrolled in one of Sweetwater Union High School District’s (SUHSD) alternative schools, also referred to as “atypical” schools, and their school’s hours were 12:15 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.. Throughout the state of California, alternative schools offer variations of full-day, partial-day and even at-home Independent Study programs for those students who, for a variety of reasons, may not thrive within typical public school environments. Some alternative schools serve as the last resort for many students who would otherwise dropout, and thus serve a valuable role in ensuring that our district’s graduation rates don’t decline.
I was told by the CVPD that our city’s daytime curfew law (CV Muni Code #9.09.050) had an exemption that applied specifically to alternative students, making it a violation for them to be in public during the curfew except for travel directly to and from their school. The SUHSD had an enrollment of approximately 3,000 students in alternative schools during the school year 2010-11.
Even when they are not considered truant by their schools, many of these students are being told by the police to return home and stay out of public during the curfew hours of 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. or risk a costly citation - nothing less than a de-facto house arrest!
This curfew is not applied equally to all students. When Bonita Vista High School has one of their regularly occurring minimum school days, students from the early session are released from school shortly after noon (well within the timeframe of the curfew) but the CVPD does not consider any of these students to be in violation.
Does our community have any reason to feel threatened by unsupervised alternative students who are in public during the morning curfew hours? Apparently not, as the CVPD was unable to provide any data showing that these students presented a higher risk than traditionally-schooled students.
Exact same curfew and similar scenarios, yet only non-truant alternative students are found to be in violation of the curfew. Innocent law-abiding students are paying a high price for persecution.
It does not serve the public good to require otherwise law-abiding alternative students to remain inside their homes when they are not required to be in a classroom. Like their traditionally-schooled counterparts, these students deserve the liberty to pursue social activities out in public when their presence is not required in their schools. A daytime curfew law that doesn’t respond to the realities of today’s educational environment is not going to achieve the desired results of reducing truancy because it will only serve to frustrate and alienate the increasing population of alternative students and their parents who are trying to do the right thing.