A Christian legal organization is fighting for the rights of homeschoolers against a New Mexico bill that is threatening to bring back a restrictive law-enforcement tactic that has been challenged for years – daytime curfew laws that limit home-educated students from leaning in their communities.
The Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is working to convince the New Mexico legislature not to revive the new controversial laws that work to hinder the homeschool experience.
“House Bill 53 would allow any municipality or county in the state to adopt a curfew ordinance for anyone under age 16,” HSLDA reported. “The bill allows both a nighttime curfew – between midnight and 5 a.m. – and a daytime curfew during school hours on weekdays.”
License to harass …
The attorneys based in Purcellville, Virginia, argue that the problematic laws discriminates against homeschoolers because the legislation assumes that all youth are educated during the day on conventional public or private school campuses.
“[We are] opposed to daytime curfews because they presume that a child who is out in public during school hours is guilty, and they allow local law enforcement to stop, question and seize anyone under 16,” HSLDA Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt – who is his organization’s contact lawyer in New Mexico – stated.
Schmidt contends that passage of the new bill would give police officers a license to harass homeschool students who are going about their schooling outside of their homes during the day.
“Most of the time, the children who are stopped are over 16 but under 18, and engaged in perfectly lawful activities – like going to college classes, going to private lessons or heading to the store at the request of their parents,” he pointed out. “HSLDA has been involved in numerous situations where homeschooled students have been stopped, questioned and intimidated while engaged in perfectly lawful activities.”
It is also noted that virtually no beneficial effects come out of enforcing the newly proposed daytime curfew, which actually works to potentially criminalize and minors and take them into custody – while violating their rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution.
“Daytime curfews generally fail to deter crime and reduce truancy, but they do unconstitutionally harass and detain law-abiding minors,” Schmidt continued.
Exemptions in order …
HSLDA points out that a number of exemptions would be mandated if the new bill is passed.
“It’s important to note that H.B. 53 would require any curfew ordinance adopted by a municipality or county to include several exemptions,” Schmidt explained. “Most of the exemptions are common to these sorts of ordinances, such as when a child is accompanied by a parent or other adult, is going to or from work, or is going to or from a school or religious function.”
Homeschooled children are also covered by an exemption – for the most part.
“The bill also includes an exemption for a child who is in a private school or homeschool program, and a student who is not required to be in attendance at a particular time,” Schmidt added.
The underlying problem
Some might look at the aforementioned exemptions and wonder why homeschoolers still have a problem with the new bill, but legal experts at HSLDA contend that the legislation poses a number of foreseeable problems for those leaning from home.
“So what’s the big deal? … Don’t these exemptions make the ordinances harmless for homeschooled students?” Schmidt rhetorically asked, before answering his own questions. “Not at all. While the ‘homeschool exemption’ sounds good on its face, there would still be several problems if this bill were to pass.”
One of the main reasons for opposition to the bill is the fact that its passage would open up homeschoolers to be harassed whenever they are out and about during a home study group, field trip or community service as part of their home education experience/programs.
“First, homeschooled students would be stopped and questioned,” the homeschool attorney asserted. “Local law enforcement would need to verify that any student they stopped was homeschooled.”
Furthermore, it needlessly opens up homeschoolers to potentially traumatizing experiences at the hands of their local police department.
“Second, if a child were stopped and law enforcement was not able to contact the child’s parent or guardian, the child could be taken into custody,” Schmidt pointed out. “In the unlikely event that the parent wasn’t able to be reached within a six-hour time period, then the officer would have to seek protective custody under the Family In Need of Court-Ordered Services Act.”
Even though HSLDA does appreciate the proposed exemptions that go along with the bill, the nonprofit legal group insists that its passage must be blocked so that children and young adults can continue to enjoy their constitutional freedoms to move about their communities during their educational experiences – instead of being needlessly detained in a virtual house arrest while learning.
“While the New Mexico bill attempts to placate the concerns of the homeschool community, we remain opposed to daytime curfew bills, as they are not effective and hinder the lawful movement of a minor,” Schmidt maintained. “We will continue to closely monitor this bill.”