VISTA — Planning on ditching school or letting your child play hooky? Better think again. With the unanimous passing of a daytime curfew ordinance Oct. 22, truant minors caught in public places from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. without a valid excuse and their parents could be warned or cited.
The city has discussed enacting a daytime curfew in the past, but the completion of the Sprinter light rail line along the State Highway 78 corridor added urgency to the issue. Because every other city on the Sprinter line has daytime curfews in place, there was concern that Vista would become a destination for truant children hoping to avoid citation.
City analyst Wendy Romagnoli explained to the council that these children can be targets for crime and may become criminals themselves. She added that loitering minors also can drive away “legitimate customers” from businesses.
“ I warned this council before about the Sprinter line,” Councilman Steve Gronke said in support of the ordinance. “I think we need to protect our downtown.”
The council was cautiously supportive. Councilman Robert Campbell said he wanted to ensure that police officers didn’t unduly harass students, particularly the ones with legitimate reasons to be out during the day. He suggested the schools have staff reachable by phone at all times to verify whether a minor is cleared to be away from school.
City Manager Rita Geldert informed the council that the city is working with the school district to produce identification cards for legitimately absent minors to avoid misunderstandings with the police.
Romagnoli also pointed out that the police won’t apprehend every minor they find on the street during school hours. The ordinance includes a host of exemptions including provisions for home schooled and working children.
“The sheriffs have discretion,” Romagnoli said. “They are not required to cite and then also if they do cite and you go to court, then a judge is also hearing it. The judge has the ability to dismiss it or to reduce it.”
There were several high school seniors at the Tuesday night meeting and just before council passed the ordinance, Mayor Morris Vance invited the students to speak on the ordinance, but none took the opportunity.
“These are all the young people who never stray from school, so it doesn’t matter to them,” the mayor said jokingly.
Their silence did not indicate agreement, however.
“I was too scared,” Rancho Buena Vista High School senior Amanda Johnson said after the meeting, explaining why she didn’t protest the ordinance.
“I’m totally against it,” classmate Amanda Wright said after the meeting. “The kids who are missing class … if they miss school it’s their fault and they’ll pay for it in the future.”
“If they’re going to be doing something wrong and they’re out of school, they’re already going to get in trouble for it,” Kayleen Martinez, another classmate, said.
The ordinance will be reviewed after one year to determine its effectiveness.