In October of 2007, Anne Gebhart, co-founder and director of the north Texas regional home school organization HEART of Texas, picked up her newspaper and found herself shocked by what she read. The story reported that the city councils of both Euless and Bedford had amended their nighttime curfew ordinances to include new daytime curfews, which would make it illegal for juveniles under the age of 17 to be out in public during a school day. Curious to know what juvenile crime problem the cities were dealing with during the day, Anne was baffled to learn that the city really didn’t have a problem with juveniles on the street during the day. After a phone conversation with a city councilman and the police chief, she also learned that the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District had approached each city’s police chief with the idea of the curfew, which they believed would help solve their truancy problem. While the Euless and Bedford city councils complied and simultaneously passed the measure, Hurst did not.
Why Does a Daytime Curfew Matter?
As a home school mom, Ms. Gebhart opposed the newly implemented city ordinances. Even though she knew that as home schoolers her children were exempt from compulsory attendance according to state law, the city’s curfew ordinance considered home schooling a “defense to prosecution.” This means that if a juvenile were out in public during school hours, the decision to issue a citation would be at the discretion of an individual police officer, even if the student were a home schooler. There wouldn’t have to be evidence of an actual crime being committed . . . simply being outside during the day would be the crime worthy of the citation. For Ms. Gebhart, the potential for home schoolers being targeted by police officers was a concern because there were a number of legitimate reasons for home schoolers, her kids included, to be outside during the day with or without their parents: driving to a class, running an errand, taking a walk around the block, or on their way to a field trip.
What to do about it?
Ms. Gebhart’s next phone call was to Tim Lambert, President of THSC, to let him know about the issue and to get his opinion. He briefed Ms. Gebhart on the legislative history of daytime curfews, and shared news articles detailing how these curfews are often unequally enforced to target minorities. He also shared stories from home schoolers in other parts of the state who have been negatively impacted by daytime curfews. He encouraged Ms. Gebhart to continue to grow her coalition, which he said was the best way to win these types of political battles.
Ms. Gebhart organized an informational meeting through HEART of Texas, the North Texas regional home schooling organization, to educate and inform home school families and concerned parents in the surrounding area about the issue and the consequences that would follow, and she invited Tim Lambert to give a presentation on daytime curfews. The meeting drew nearly 100 people from across the metroplex who wanted to learn about daytime curfews and how they would affect their families.
People began approaching Ms. Gebhart to volunteer for a number of tasks: circulating petitions to repeal each city’s curfew ordinances, designing pamphlets detailing the curfew’s impact on families and business owners, making phone calls, and knocking on doors. Ms. Gebhart sent notices of council meetings and encouraged participation in the Open Forum portion of the meeting where citizens could speak about the curfew. She also started a blog to keep people informed on the city ordinances. As the issue gained momentum there would often be 50 to 100 people opposing the ordinance at every city council meeting during the six months following the passage of the ordinances.
Ms. Gebhart also organized rallies in Bedford, and helped organize a group in Dallas when the city council started discussions about implementing a daytime curfew. As the issue drew increased media attention with the onset of the Dallas council decision, Ms. Gebhart began receiving requests for interviews on a regular basis. “I was getting calls for interviews pretty often–television, newspaper, and radio–particularly when Dallas began considering its ordinance,” Ms. Gebhart said.
As a way to help promote the issue and show unity, Ms. Gebhart designed t-shirts for supporters to wear at rallies or while out on their errands. The clever shirt design concisely illustrated the disparity of the curfew compared with other Class C Misdemeanor crimes.
In March 2008, twin rallies protesting the daytime curfew in Dallas and Bedford drew media attention from over a dozen media outlets, and served to thrust the issue into the national news as the issue in Dallas became heated.
Yet, despite growing public outrage over the curfew, the councils (Dallas included) were still in favor of the ordinance. Only one city council member in Bedford had changed his mind about the issue. Though he worked to get his fellow council members to see things from his perspective, the ordinance remained.
“While we were not able to defeat the daytime curfew at that time,” stated Ms. Gebhart, “the experience helped us realize that our family needed to be more involved politically. My husband, Dave, even ran for office, and others were also inspired to run. We weren’t giving up.”
Hard Work Pays Off!
Because curfew ordinances are up for sunset review every three years, cities that have them in place must justify their continuance if they wish to reinstate them. Since the members of the councils in both Bedford and Euless didn’t change much for several years, the curfew issue remained closed. The Bedford council even went so far as to change the format of the council meeting by eliminating the open forum at the end of the meeting and replacing it with a 30-minute slot at the beginning for anyone wishing to speak on anything scheduled for discussion or for a vote on the agenda.
“I think they got tired of hearing us talk about the curfew and keeping them up late,” explained Ms. Gebhart. “We would often have dozens of people voice their concerns about the curfew during the open forum. It was easier for the council to squelch us than to deal with us. One council member had the gall to lecture us one evening, by telling us–citizens and taxpayers–that we were wasting their time and that this was ‘their’ meeting. It was at that time that we realized that the only way to solve this issue was at the voting booth.”
Finally, in June 2015, the Euless daytime curfew city ordinance came up for review. With a new mayor and several new council members, the council entertained a resolution to repeal the daytime portion of their curfew ordinance and retain their nighttime curfew. While the resolution failed, the council decided that the issue required further review. After completing their review, they revisited the issue in August and voted unanimously to repeal the daytime curfew ordinance.
Due to the Gebharts’ and the HEART of Texas’ advocacy efforts and leadership, the eight-year battle finally ended in Euless and the Gebharts can focus their attention on overturning daytime curfew ordinances in other north Texas cities, particularly Bedford. “I would hope that this is a dead issue,” Ms. Gebhart told THSC when asked if she was pleased with the results in Euless, “I am hoping Bedford will follow suit soon.”
Is there a daytime curfew in your city?
If you aren’t sure, contact your city police department’s non-emergency number to find out.
If you have a regional home schooling organization in your area, such as HEART of Texas, which serves north Texas home schoolers, contact them about organizing an effort in your city to get the ordinance repealed.
If you don’t have a regional organization near you, contact THSC for support.
“Don’t wait for a crisis to motivate you to get involved, like we did,” said Ms. Gebhart. “If home schoolers and other conservatives had been involved all along, the members on the councils may have been more sensitive to our issues. Get involved now so you can have a voice that may help prevent the crisis from occurring in the first place.”
Please consider joining THSC as we continue to support and partner with regional home school organizations such as HEART of Texas and individuals such as Anne Gebhart in fighting to Keep Texas Families Free.
Are you a member of a regional or local organization? If so, join THSC today and get $20 off your annual membership. If not, check out our resource of regional and local support groups. Then join THSC with a discount to enjoy the support of THSC.