Questions raised during PA curfew discussion; city council tables vote

Published 12:12 am Thursday, February 6, 2020

An attorney for the Port Arthur Independent School District has asked the Port Arthur City Council to take away two defenses for those who must follow the youth curfew.

Melody Carrier asked the council during the second hearing on the curfew Tuesday to consider eliminating the reasons of each child ages 6-16 to be standing on a sidewalk at the place of residence and being sent on an errand if he or she is suspended or expelled from school as defenses from violation charges.

“The district’s position is, when a kid is outside of school, he should be supervised during school hours,” Carrier said.

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The ordinance, which was updated in 2017, makes it illegal for each child to be outside of school during normal school hours except for 10 defenses, or excuses, including being accompanied by a parent or an adult approved by the parents (two defenses); running an emergency errand; attending a school, religious or government-sponsored activity; lawful employment; being on the sidewalk at the place of his or her residence; running an errand directed by a parent or guardian; being transported by vehicle on a path which going through the curfew area is the most direct route; being engaged in an activity in which the nighttime component of the curfew (11 p.m.-6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight-6 a.m. Friday and Saturday) would conflict with rights under state and federal law; and being married or having disabilities of minority removed.

Violators face misdemeanor charges and a fine of $500 for each offense.

Under city ordinance, the curfew must be updated every two years. The city council tabled the vote during Tuesday’s regular meeting after four citizens spoke during the hearing and drew responses from the council. The first hearing on Jan. 27 did not prompt as much discussion.

Hilton Kelley cautioned the council against being harsh on parents who violate or whose children violate the curfew.

“Yes, the parents do have responsibility, but a lot of our parents work two or three little jobs to keep clothes on the kids’ back,” Kelley said. “Give this some careful thought. We’ve got grandmothers going to jail. We know this is a difficult issue. We’re in difficult times.”

City attorney Val Tizeno assured Kelley the city code does not call for violators to be sent to jail, but Councilman Harold Doucet suggested the city does “everything possible” to keep parents responsible for having their children follow ordinance.

Reginald Trainer suggested laws that prevent prayer in schools have led children to violating curfew.

“It’s not going to take making new rules; it’ll take clarifying the rules we have,” Trainer said.

No objections were raised during the Jan. 27 hearing, when Port Arthur Police Deputy Chief Michael Fratus spoke in support of the present curfew, violations of which he says are not rampant. Fratus reiterated his belief that the curfew is a tool for police to ensure the safety of schoolchildren and does not need to be changed.

“All a defense is, if you go to court, will this excuse fly?” Fratus told the council Tuesday. “It’s the judge that decides, not the officer. I would ask to keep it simple. We don’t want to bound our citizens to a point where they don’t have a chance to explain.”

Carrier said the PAISD would work with Port Arthur police to check on students who are not compliant to the curfew.

“We want to do something and enforce it for the kids who feel like they can continue to do something wrong,” Councilman Thomas Kinlaw III said.

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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