2008/04/14

Here we go again !!!

UPDATE: I have been informed by a council member that enforcement of this ordinance would be the responsibility of the School Liaison Officer, who apparently spends her time in school, where she would not find any truant children. So what is the point of the legislation? Does the city want to leave the door open for draconian, community-wide law enforcement because the school district can't take responsibility for those in its charge? This is even more preposterous, not less so!!

They’re at it again.

It would seem that the City of Ypsilanti is really good at proposing bad laws.

Now, mostly, I keep my nose out of City business because I live in the township. However, every now and then the City presents an ordinance that might actually affect me or mine.

This time, the City is proposing a curfew on all children between 6 and 16 years of age during school hours.

The proposed ordinance reads

Sec. 74-325. Generally.

A. It is unlawful for a minor under the age of 16 years who is enrolled in a public or private educational program to be absent from school and in a public place, as defined in subsection B.

Sec. 74-326. Definition.

A public place means any public street, avenue, highway, roadway, curb area, alley, park, playground or other public ground, place or building, amusement place, eating place, vacant lot, or any place open to the public during the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. when school is in session.

This, folks, is a curfew.

Now, the ordinance includes 10 exceptions for various cases where children may be enrolled in other institutions, or may be home-schooled, etcetera.

The fundamental problem is that it is effectively illegal for our children to be on the street during school hours, and the nature of the exceptions is that the burden of proof lies with the child.

What this means is that Chief Harshberger and his police officers are to assume that any child seen in a public place during school hours is in breach of this ordinance, and the officers are obliged to interrogate the child to determine if the child qualifies as exempt.

Lets go through a couple of examples.

An adolescent attends a charter school and his class has a half-day off on some pretext or other. He is in his father’s café, helping out and chatting with customers while his father is at work at another job. A police officer, upon entering that café, is obliged to interrogate the young man to determine whether he is within the law under this ordinance.

What level of stupidity is this?

What is the pressing issue that has our children under the threat of interrogation every time they leave their homes or school premises during public school hours?

Apparently the school district is having a truancy problem, and this is a proposal that is supposed to address it. As far as I can tell, truant children are not a threat to public safety, nor are they gathering in numbers and creating a public nuisance. Even if they were, we already have laws to cover that.

Apparently, then, the problem is an administrative one within the school district, and the school district is looking for a way to enlist the support of the City via the police force in its enforcement of the state’s truancy laws.

Well folks, this is the wrong solution!!

This ordinance makes it a police officer’s duty to interrogate every minor seen on the street during public school hours, whether the minor is making a nuisance or not. As if the officers don’t have enough on their plate as it is.!!

Another example.

I educate my son at home. In a few years, he will be old enough to do simple errands on his own. Suppose our lessons are done for the day, we are visiting Depot Town, and we get caught up yammering politics with someone on the street.

Suppose I send Jack to the café to grab an ice-cream. He ends up yammering to Forrest, (who has, by this time, graduated but Jack has known Forrest for years.)

An officer is obliged to interrogate Jack for being in a public place during school hours.

Yep, you heard right, my son could be interrogated for buying an ice-cream.

Now, suppose my son were to get defensive if the police officer starts to ask him about curriculum, then the officer is obliged to come to me and find out if I am in compliance with the law.

The ordinance reads that I must be educating Jack in an “organized educational program” according to exemption 10

10) The minor is being educated in an organized educational program at the minor’s home by his or her parent, legal guardian in accordance with Public Act No. 451 of 1976 (MCL 380.1, et seq.).


I have no problem complying with that, it is a requirement of state law.

I would hate to think, however, that an officer of the City of Ypsilanti Police Force might feel the need to come to my home in Ypsilanti Township to determine whether or not I am educating my son in a manner consistent with the law. I may also feel reluctant to believe that such an officer was qualified to make such a determination.

Now, if they just struck the words "in an organized educational program", then there is no obligation from the officer to determine anything more than that I am home-schooling.

So, recapping our hypothetical, I sent Jack to buy an ice-cream during public school hours, and it could end up that I face court on truancy charges because a police officer may not be qualified to make a judgment on my home-school curriculum.

Do you see why I am torqued about this?

It is the most extreme case, but it is possible under the ordinance as it is written now.

A curfew is the type of extreme measure that civilized societies reserve for times when all reasonable avenues have failed to address an issue of civil unrest or public nuisance.

A curfew is a heavy-handed measure to address a problem within the public school administration, which, as far as I can tell, causes no public nuisance.

Truancy laws are designed to bring to justice those abusive and reprobate parents/guardians who refuse to educate those children in their care.

Interrogating children who are going about their lawful business in an orderly manner is a high price for our community to pay for the failures of our school district.

No citizen should suffer police interrogation while going about his or her normal, lawful business, least of all a child!!.

Take Care

Rod

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ypsilanti township, where Rod now resides, has a nearly identical ordinance already in effect. This is an opportunity for Ypsilanti city and township to work together to address concerns like Rod's and gather data from the enacted truancy ordinance in the township.

Paul Schreiber

Rodney Smith said...

Thanks for your comment, Paul

Poorly crafted, heavy handed legislation provides less-than-ideal "glue"for forging a relationship between the City and the Township.

The city has a chance to find a better solution to the problems facing the school district, hopefully one that does not include having its citizens questioned by the authorities while going about their lawful business.

While I am opposed in principle to the legislation, I'll be less concerned if it is crafted to minimize the legal miasma should a worst-case scenario play out.

If nothing else, striking the words "in an organized educational manner" from exemption 10 will remove the responsibility to investigate curriculum from law enforcement at the moment of challenge, and place it where it belongs, in the further investigation of an established truancy investigation.

Placing an obligation on law enforcement to assess homeschool curricula is absurd. Hopefully our officers, city and township, have better things to do with their time

Had I known about this ordinance, in the township I'd have opposed it.

trusty getto said...

Once again, a solution in search of a problem.

Wonder when Water Street will be developed . . . .

Steve Pierce, Ypsilanti, Michigan USA said...

Isn't this ordinance just cost shifting for the school liaison officers for which the School System already receives money.

Aren't the Liaison Officers responsible for enforcing the truancy laws already on the books? At one point, the School District had a Washtenaw County Sheriff and a Ypsilanti Police officer that were full time officers assigned to the school district. Are they trying to save money by cutting funding for these officers by shifting responsibility for enforcing Truancy onto the already cash-strapped Ypsilanti City cops?

The request for a Truancy Ordinance did NOT come from parents, residents, neighborhood associations, or the police department. So who made the request?

According to the Mayor of Ypsilanti and the Ypsilanti Police Chief, it was the School District that requested this Truancy ordinance.

If that is true, than it should be the school system that addresses the concerns over enforcement and accountability. It should be the school district that brings the ordinance to the City Council with the support of the community.

The Police Chief and the City Attorney should not be acting as proxies for the School Board and School Administration.

The Police Chief shouldn't be taking the heat when folks in the community have significant concerns over this ordinance and how it will be enforced and who will pay for that enforcement.

The only reason given in support of this ordinance is that Ypsilanti Township already has a similar ordinance. That is not reason enough.

The City of Detroit has an income tax but no one suggested that Ypsilanti needs an Income tax because Detroit has one.

The School Board and School Administrators should make the case for why there should be a truancy ordinance and they need to address the concerns brought up by residents in our community.

Only then should the Truancy ordinance come before City Council for consideration.

- Steve

Rodney Smith said...

Your own article on this was great Cam.

Steve I think you've summed it up pretty well.

It is up to the school district to make their case now that significant opposition has been raised.