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Published in Print: January 1, 2000, as Clippings

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Curfew Crazy: What's wrong with youth curfews? Plenty, argues Margaret Davidson in the November issue of Reason, the libertarian journal.

She cites Monrovia, California, where officials in 1994 adopted a daytime curfew to control truancy and juvenile crime. Before the Los Angeles County Superior Court struck down the ban last year, it stirred controversy, in part because the town required teens who were exempt—such as homeschoolers—to register with the police and carry special identification cards.

That didn't sit well with the Home School Legal Defense Association, a nonprofit advocacy organization, which produced a poster that questioned, "Do daytime curfews work? Ask the experts." The "experts" pictured were Hitler, Stalin, and Lenin.

Davidson also reports on a curfew flap in Washington, D.C., where a group of parents and their children, with help from the American Civil Liberties Union, is challenging the city's tough law, which keeps kids under 17 at home from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weeknights and from midnight to 6 a.m. on weekends. She quotes plaintiff Tiana Hutchins, a flag girl in a high school band who wants to socialize with her friends after performances: The law is unfair, Hutchins says, because it punishes "good kids who are out trying to make something of themselves when only a small percentage of young people are committing crimes in the city during curfew hours."

The article questions the accuracy of data suggesting that youth crime has dropped in cities with such ordinances. It notes that one study conducted in Monrovia even found that youth crime increased during the school year, when the city's curfew was most vigorously enforced. Still, curfew laws remain popular with politicians around the country. "They aren't likely to go away anytime soon," Davidson concludes.


Living Example: This fall, Republican presidential candidate and Texas Governor George W. Bush outlined an education initiative designed to help students whose schools are not teaching them effectively. Under his plan, any school rated low-performing for three consecutive years, based on the standardized testing of economically disadvantaged children, would lose federal Title I funding. Bush would then give each child in the school $1,500 to buy entry into a private school, a charter school, or another public school.

Theory is one thing, but how would such a scenario play out in real life? To find out, Texas Monthly sent reporter Patricia Bernstein to pose the "what if?" question to citizens in the tiny East Texas town of Goodrich, which has the dubious distinction of being home to the only school in the state rated low-performing for three years in a row: Goodrich Elementary.

Of the school's 135 students, Bernstein writes in the November issue of the magazine, more than three-quarters qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches. The town itself is poor, with few job opportunities; Mayor Mark Ryman calls Goodrich "a way station on the road to somewhere else." Bernstein finds that the elementary school uses most of its Title I funds to pay the salary of the district's only counselor, Belia Aguayo. "She is critical to the well-being of these kids," says the district's superintendent, James Boyce.

Under Governor Bush's plan, Goodrich Elementary could be closed and its students scattered to new schools. Unfortunately, there isn't much to choose from, even with $1,500 vouchers. In nearby Livingston, five miles away, Polk Christian Academy serves 53 students in a small building and costs $1,800 a year. Livingston Christian Academy costs $1,350 a year but serves only 19 students. "Neither school," Bernstein writes, "could accommodate large numbers of children from Goodrich." Mayor Ryman tells Bernstein, "If the school closed down, if all the kids went to private schools, it would almost destroy our town."

--David Hill

Vol. 11, Issue 4, Page 17

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