DINUBA – To help cut down on truancy and general delinquency in the community, the city is trying out a daytime curfew for minors that will be in place during regular school hours.
The Dinuba City Council unanimously passed an urgency ordinance to establish the daytime curfew at its meeting Nov. 14; the ordinance will be valid for 45 days, at which time the council can vote to extend it. Administrators from Dinuba Unified School District (DUSD) have voiced their support for the ordinance, and the hope is that it will work as another mechanism to hold students and their parents accountable for their attendance.
“This is something — in conjunction with me being a school employee — that was brought up to my attention and in my daily interactions with students,” Councilmember Benjamin Prado said. “We constantly have students leave campus, and there’s no repercussions other than, ‘Hey, you’re going to be marked absent or tardy.’”
Prado, who works for DUSD, said that unless a student is involved in an extracurricular where their attendance would impact their ability to participate, being marked absent doesn’t mean much to them. While schools have their own processes for disciplining and supporting students who are constantly absent or struggling with their work, they have little authority once the student leaves school grounds.
“We have a lot of things, a lot of options, a lot of ways we try to help certain students,” Prado said. “A lot of times these kids are just not wanting to comply … and they can leave and come back as they please, so this would really help us with where we’re at.”
The ordinance adds a daytime curfew to the “Minors’ Curfew” section of the city’s municipal code, which already has a nighttime curfew in place between 10 p.m. and sunrise the following day. Although the curfew was enacted through a temporary urgency ordinance, the city’s plan is to develop a permanent ordinance later on.
The curfew makes it unlawful for any minor, barring outlined exemptions, to “loiter, idle, wander, stroll or aimlessly drive or ride about in or upon any public street, … public place or public building, place of amusement or eating place, vacant lot or abandoned or vacant building,” between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. on days when their school is in session, according to the ordinance.
City attorney David Yanez said the ordinance includes “common sense exceptions” to allow for the flexibility of its enforcement. If a minor is with their parent or legal guardian, in transit to an appointment, job or school-approved activity, is homeschooled or has a written excuse with them, the ordinance does not apply.
“The language does state that the police department can cite this as a misdemeanor, but there’s a section towards the end of the ordinance that says that the city has discretion to enforce this either as a misdemeanor, infraction or an administrative citation,” Yanez said.
Yanez said the ordinance also allows for the city to hold parents accountable if they’re found to be encouraging or intentionally causing a minor’s violation of the curfew. This could be done through giving out an administrative citation to the minor’s parents with a fine for the time spent by the city and police department in dealing with the truant juvenile, as determined by a court or the chief of police.
Council, community response
Other than a few DUSD employees, there were no administrative representatives from the district present at the council meeting; however, Jesse Sanchez, district administrator of expanded learning opportunities and school safety, provided the city council with a letter of support in favor of the ordinance.
In his letter, Sanchez wrote that he believes a daytime curfew is an effective measure for addressing truancy and ensuring the safety of DUSD students.
“In addition to supporting the educational system, a daytime curfew can contribute to a safer and more peaceful community for all residents,” Sanchez wrote. “It can help reduce instances of vandalism, loitering and other unwanted activities that often occur when minors have idle time during the day.”
During public comment, Candyce Montelongo, who is a campus safety monitor at Dinuba High School, said students’ ability to leave school grounds whenever they feel like it is a major safety concern for the school. She said it’s frustrating and even embarrassing for staff when they see students out and about in town when they should be in school because there is nothing they can do about it.
Montelongo said that she and other campus safety monitors see students constantly leaving campus, even multiple times a day, to go downtown because they don’t want to be in class or they want to buy something at the nearby convenience store. By her estimate, 50 to 100 students are coming and going from the campus each day.
“It’s just frustrating that there’s nothing we can do once they’re off campus,” Montelongo said. “It would just be wonderful to see something like this in place to help out a little bit.”
For students who have permission to be off school grounds, Montelongo suggested they be required to wear some kind of identification like a city hall pass.
At the meeting, Councilmember Kuldip Thusu said he was in support of the temporary nature of the urgency ordinance, but he questioned if it would truly be effective. In a statement sent to the Mid Valley Times, Thusu said that in addition to the potential benefits of the curfew, the city should consider the potential downsides.
“A curfew might infringe upon personal freedoms, its effectiveness in crime reduction is debatable and it could lead to unequal enforcement,” Thusu wrote. “Moreover, it demands substantial resources and may overlook the underlying causes of truancy and delinquency.”
However, at the meeting, he said it could also help identify potential at-risk youth and ideally reduce vandalism around Dinuba.
“I’m fully supportive of this ‘give it a try for 45 days and see what happens,’ but at the same time, we’ve got to look at the benefit, risk and any additional things that the city and the school district needs to do together,” Thusu said at the meeting.
Resident Javier Garcia, who also spoke at the meeting, said he was concerned about what enforcement would look like and what the process would be for issuing a citation. He said that it would be good to have a known step-by-step procedure, just as discipline is done in schools, for how a curfew violation would be handled.
Sanchez’s letter to the council also addressed the need for the curfew ordinance to be “carefully crafted” to address the concerns of the district and provide for appropriate exemptions.
“I believe that through open dialogue and collaboration between the city council, law enforcement, schools and community members, we can design a daytime curfew ordinance that strikes the right balance between safety and respecting the individual circumstances of our residents,” Sanchez wrote.
With the implementation of an urgency ordinance, the city is giving itself the opportunity to go back and address these concerns or any other concerns with the ordinance that come up after a trial period.
After the 45 days are up, the city council can renew the ordinance for an additional 10 months and 15 days, at which time it can renew it again for a year. To pass a permanent ordinance, the council has to undergo two votes on the ordinance, and permanent ordinances go into effect 30 days after they are approved.