Arlington is considering a law that would keep children under 16 off the streets and out of public places between midnight and 5 a.m. and make it illegal for businesses to allow children on their premises during school hours.
The proposals were prompted by one County Board member's concern over the lure of all-night video-game parlors and the problem of school truancy. The proposed ordinance, to be discussed at a public hearing on Nov. 20, would put the burden on businesses and parents to keep children out of public places and in school during the day and at home in the early morning hours -- unless they have a valid excuse.
The curfew, believed to be the first in Northern Virginia, was proposed by board member Dorothy T. Grotos, a Republican. She said a number of parents have told her they need help in keeping their children at home. "I intend it to be a tool for parents whose children say there is no law against being in a game hall until 2 a.m. They could no longer say that," she said, citing a recent case of an 8-year-old sent home from a video-game parlor by police at 2 a.m.
Other members of the Arlington Board expressed reservations yesterday about the measure. "I must say I'm not aware we have a problem to this degree," member Walter L. Frankland said. Board Chairman Stephen H. Detwiler, also a Republican, described himself as "lukewarm to neutral on the whole idea."
"I am concerned about setting up a system where at 12:01 on a Saturday night, there would be certain grounds which would make every 15 year old subject to quizzing by the police," Democrat John G. Milliken said. However, four of the five board members agreed yesterday to hold the public hearing to get community reaction. The lone dissenting vote came from Democrat Ellen M. Bozman.
Arlington Commonwealth's Attorney Henry E. Hudson, who drafted the ordinance at Grotos' request, said yesterday he supports efforts to make it more difficult for Arlington schoolchildren to play hooky. "There is nothing right now that prohibits a child from being in a business during school hours," he said. "A merchant has no affirmative duty [to report truants] right now. I have urged for a long time that the truancy law needs to be shored up," he said.
The curfew law, modeled after one in Willingboro, N.J., would impose a maximum fine of $500 and up to 30 days in jail against adults who knowingly allow minors to violate its provisions. Exceptions to the curfew could be granted to children accompanied by their parents or engaged in exempted activity such as going to church or a job.
In Falls Church, the City Council approved an ordinance in July restricting locations of amusement centers, requiring that game parlors with four or more machines be separated from churches, schools and a competing center by at least 1,000 feet and from residential areas by 100 feet.
Game-parlor owners in Arlington said yesterday they see no need to crack down on teen-age patrons. "I don't dare keep open after 10:30 p.m.," said John Nafrinpay, owner of the Rainbow Ice Cream Parlor on Lee Highway, which has 12 video games in its back room. "I have no problem with kids."
"I get very few kids in here before 2 p.m. -- except at lunch when they'll come in with a McDonald burger and play a few games real fast," said Matthew Renna, part-owner of Flipper Fever on Lee Highway, which closes at midnight weekdays and 1 a.m. on Saturday.