Dallas, Texas –
I am hopeful that the City of Dallas' daytime curfew plan for teenagers will die a quiet death. It is a clueless and short-sighted idea that won't fix the truancy problem, although I know it has just enough appeal that some people might consider it a plausible solution to daytime crime. It was plausible enough for the city council to schedule two public hearings on it this spring.
This new proposal is tied to the renewal of the current nighttime curfew for teens, turning a harsh but effective tool into something much more extreme. The daytime curfew would be in effect from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., on the class days of each public school district in the city. The current nighttime curfew hours are 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., Sunday through Thursday and 12 a.m. to 6 a.m., Friday and Saturday.
Regardless of your feelings on teen curfews, just the proposal itself should cause everybody to stop and consider how on earth we got to this point.
What does it say about Dallas when its city council must intervene with their police department to round up truant students? Is that not an admission that our public schools have become so ineffectual that students need to be forced to attend under threat of even more laws? The current truancy courts have already been doing that, apparently without enough success. And what does it say to a corporation considering relocation to North Texas? It says go to Frisco or Allen or Lewisville because your employees won't want to move with their kids to Dallas.
I can understand how plausible a daytime curfew can be to some people. During my brief stint as a public school teacher I once remarked to some fellow teachers that there were certain students in my classes that didn't need to be there. They were dropouts waiting to happen, with unresponsive parents who were essentially disconnected from their kids' lives. One of those teachers looked to me and said, "Yes, but I'd rather have them here. At least they're not breaking into my garage."
Well, OK. So we hold everybody in school as long as we can and turn police officers into society's hall monitors. As if they didn't already have enough to do.
This notion of a daytime curfew just doesn't make good sense. It misplaces responsibility and doesn't address any of the underlying problems that cause a teenager to bail out of their education. Nor does it stop a kid from being a criminal because it criminalizes them before they've committed a real crime. Burglary and theft are already felonies; this would make simply being there a misdemeanor. And even though it'll probably get me in all sorts of trouble, I will also say that it really is up to parents to have some idea of what their kids are doing all day long, even when they're supposed to be in school.
Truancy and its ill effects are way out of control, no doubt about it. That's one reason why the county set up special truancy courts. Their results are mixed because some teenagers don't see the benefits of school. Keeping them locked down 12 hours a day for 9 months out of the year might make you feel that your lawn mower is much more secure, but a daytime curfew won't solve the truancy problem.
Michael Tate is a writer from Dallas
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