The Arlington County Board is considering imposing a curfew that would keep children under 16 off the street and out of public places between midnight and 5 a.m. as well as make it illegal for businesses to allow them on their premises during school hours.
The proposed curfew, scheduled to be voted upon at Saturday's board meeting, provides for a maximum fine of $500 and 30 days in jail for any parent or businessman who fails to comply.
Proposed by County Board member Dorothy T. Grotos, the measure would bar children from such places as streets, parks, restaurants, stores, shopping centers and video or game parlors between midnight and 5 a.m. and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. It would not apply to any child accompanied by an adult or with a valid excuse.
Children who are repeat offenders, or those deemed by police to be without adult supervision to the extent that their welfare is endangered, could be taken to juvenile court. Grotos said the curfew should be enacted on a trial basis.
"My primary reason for suggesting this is my concern about the health, welfare and safety of children who are out at 1 or 2 in the morning," Grotos said. "They certainly can't be in school at 8 or 9 that morning and do what they can do effectively."
Although the Arlington Chamber of Commerce has not taken a position on the measure, shop owners, students and the schools superintendent have opposed it.
"I think it's ridiculous," said Jennifer Sweeney, 15, a Yorktown High sophomore. "It'll just cause so much unnecessary trouble, and I don't think it's going to do much. If the kids want to skip school , they're going to leave anyway."
School Superintendent Charles E. Nunley said he and the high school principals oppose a curfew "because we feel it won't do the job. If we want to improve upon the truancy situation, we need to do it another way."
"The police have enough to do without having to stop and question every kid they see on the street who may be under 15," said Matt Renna, owner of the Flipper Fever video-game parlor at 4782 Lee Hwy. "But it won't affect us that much because we have very few kids in here before 3 p.m. and we close at midnight."
In the metropolitan area, only Prince George's County has a curfew barring children under 18 from the streets between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. A police spokesman there said there had been no trouble enforcing it.
In Arlington, the police department and the Commonwealth's Attorney are remaining neutral about the curfew proposal.
"We are charged with the responsibility of enforcing all laws passed by members of the local governing board and the General Assembly," Chief William K. Stover said. "If the local governing board passes a curfew, the curfew will be enforced."
But the measure is opposed by County Board member Ellen M. Bozman, the only board member to vote against even considering the curfew.
"I don't think we should be putting the onus on shop owners to be responsible for keeping children out of their stores," she said. "But, more fundamentally, I think putting parents in jail or fining them isn't an effective solution to truancy."
"A lot of places have tried curfews and when they did, they got lawsuits and the curfew laws were overturned," said Elizabeth Burns, an owner of the Warp Factor 9 game parlor, 1711 Wilson Blvd. "It puts the burden on arcade managers to find out if the kids are playing hookey or if it's a religious holiday or a day they got off early" from school.