Lake Oswego teens challenge city's curfew laws

The ACLU helps students fight an ordinance they say is unconstitutional
by: Vern Uyetake, Lake Oswego High School juniors Taylor Goldsmith, left, and Kyle Hayes hang out in downtown Lake Oswego after dark. Their Political Action Seminar group will ask the city council to repeal the city’s curfew ordinance at a meeting Tuesday. They say it’s unconstitutional and discriminates against teens.

Backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, a group of Lake Oswego High School students is asking the city to repeal its curfew ordinance, a law they say discriminates against teens and violates their fundamental rights.

The students - juniors Paul Trompke, Kyle Hayes, Taylor Goldsmith and Hanna Piazza - plan to address city council at 6 p.m. Tuesday with guidance from ACLU volunteer attorney David Silverman.

'(Curfew) is something that everyone talks about all of the time … it's a constant problem,' Trompke said.

The students' request is part of a Political Action Seminar class assignment. The course encourages them to take political action on the local level.

Last year, students proposed the installation of condom machines in school bathrooms. The district later rejected that request.

But while PAS students this year chose to promote drug awareness or volunteer for non-profit organizations, the group researched curfew - an issue they say directly affects local teens and should be abolished.

'At first we thought, 'Well, this will be a good experience.' Then we realized, 'OK, we really might be able to do this,'' Goldsmith said.

The current ordinance - which is not publicly posted but can be found on the city's Web site - forbids residents between 14 and 18 years old to be in a public place after 10:15 p.m. and before 6 a.m. on weeknights; and after midnight and before 6 a.m. on weekends during the school year. In the summer, the daily curfew changes to midnight to 6 a.m.

It further states that teens are exempt of that rule if they're accompanied by a parent, or involved in 'entertainment, night school or employment, which requires his or her presence.'

The city of Portland has a similar curfew law, as does the state.

'There's been a curfew in one form or another in the city and state for many, many years,' said Lake Oswego Police Department Capt. Don Forman. 'Curfew laws are not something that's unique to our city.'

While there is no fine for violating curfew, any minor doing so may be taken into custody, Forman said.

Handling each situation is left to the responding officer's discretion.

According to Forman, police officers will typically stop teens for traffic violations and find out why they're out after curfew. They will then call their parents and ask them to come pick up their child, or offer a ride home.

Only teens who are involved in illegal activity are arrested and taken to Clackamas County's juvenile reception center, he said.

So far this year, 19 minors were charged with a curfew violation.

'If their parents know about it and if they have a particular purpose, they're not going to find themselves in any trouble at all,' Forman said. 'Often times, it's going to be fine with police.'

But it's not police protocol that has the group and their PAS classmates rallying for curfew abolition in Lake Oswego.

The students maintain that curfew laws restrict teens' constitutional right to move about freely, discriminate by age and take away parents' rights to raise their children as they see fit.

They also say the curfew ordinance has little to no effect on the local crime rate and targets minors who are going about their daily lives - not committing crimes.

The LOHS students each know several classmates who were pulled over for curfew violation on their way home from work, athletic events or watching a movie at a friend's house.

'We're young and doing nothing wrong and they can pull us over and arrest us. It's an effective tool for them,' Trompke said.

'It's stupid. If we're driving home, they treat us like a criminal if we're only going from one place to the next,' Hayes said.

Past court cases and studies back up their argument that curfews shouldn't exist, they said.

In 1997, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a city curfew ordinance in San Diego, deeming it overly broad, inconsistently enforced and a violation of parents' rights.

The court deemed that the curfew gave police 'excessive discretion to decide whether to stop and arrest juveniles after curfew hours.'

'We found a lot of argument through that case,' Trompke said.

During their research, the group e-mailed the ACLU, which then offered the help of Silverman, a Portland-based attorney who agreed to assist them without cost.

Curfew ordinances are problematic because they give police discretion to search and arrest people who may not be committing crimes, Silverman said.

'They're simply at the wrong place at the wrong time,' he said. 'The curfew is unconstitutional and … places an undue burden on teenagers' exercise of their First Amendment rights.'

If the city council denies the request, the ACLU will pursue legal action, he said. He wouldn't say whether he thought the city would repeal its curfew.

'What's going to happen is up to the city council,' he said.

Silverman hopes a repeal of curfew will set a standard for other Oregon cities to follow suit. Such curfews have been repealed in some Northwest cities, including Bellingham and Camas, Wash., for reasons similar to those included in the group's argument.

The curfew appeal marks the first time a PAS project has involved the potential for litigation, according to PAS teacher Gerrit Koepping.

LOHS is fully behind the students and parents and peers are invited to attend the meeting and support the group's efforts, he said.

'It will be controversial, and the students have understood that from the beginning and are prepared for that reality,' he said. 'It's a great teachable moment for the rest of the school. It's really going to be meaningful as they see young people can make a difference.'