Clara's Clearing

Clara's Clearing

Running into "truancy laws"

Thursday, May 13, 2010

In San Francisco a project called Pavement to Parks has been started to turn under-used street space into little parks. One of these parks has been built – entirely of recycled and reclaimed materials – close to our house. We and all the neighbors we know love it. After years of being enclosed by buildings, now the neighborhood kids have a place, even if very small, to run to and let off some steam. One neighbor family wheeled their portable basketball hoop over there for everyone to enjoy.


As a homeschooler’s mother I am especially delighted in our new park. It is half a block from our house and I let my son go there by himself and shoot some hoops. Yesterday, a few minutes after Jack left for the park he came running back. “A guy there told me I was not allowed to play in the park,” he reported. “He said it is against truancy laws.”

I had not come across that one before! So I walked back to the park with my son to see what the deal was. The guy was still there. He was a nasty looking older guy with a gray beard and a black leather jacket, fiddling with a Harley Davidson. I told him that my son is not “truant” and it is his right to play in a public park. I don’t remember exactly what he said but he hissed in my face and behaved intimidatingly toward us. He said something to the effect that the park is for people to quietly sit and drink coffee and not for playing basketball. He said that the basketball hoop had already been removed by him and other like-minded neighbors but others keep bringing it back. He told us to go away.


Like hell we were going to go away. I told him we would call the police to come and settle the dispute. He finished fiddling with his bike and drove away with a roar from his motorcycle. Quite a bit of noise pollution from a guy who likes others to quietly sit in the part and drink coffee!


Jack and I went to the basketball hoop. Someone had put a piece of plywood over the basket, drilled holes on each side, and put a lock through the holes. One of the locks was unlocked so we pushed the plywood to the side and played.


When we came back home I called our local police department to see what they think. The police woman I talked to did not like it at all. She told me that next time someone objects to us using a public park we should tell him that if he would like it the police will come over and explain things to him. I put the number of the police department in my cell phone and have every intention of ringing them up next time this guy or his friends approach us.


The story of this guy and others like him on the block is something like this: The “underused” piece of pavement that the city has turned into a park used to be their private parking lot. One guy, I found out, has six cars that he used to park on the street where the park is now. But there’s almost a whole row of shady characters on that block who hate the park for their own reasons. I have bad memories of these people.


Years ago when my son was little I was passing by with a stroller when a group of jeering men backed up their car as I was passing. Their idea of a joke was to threaten to run over a baby in a stroller. These are the kind of people who are opposed to turning unused pavement into park. From what I hear there is a lot of objection to building these parks in other neighborhoods as well. I wonder if they are all like these neighbors of ours?


At any rate, it was funny to me how a definitely up-to-no-good character was threatening us with “truancy laws.” He and his friends must have done some brainstorming to come up with some “law” that they could use to beat children over the head with. They probably have intimidated a lot of kids not just with their law talk but with their ugly and nasty selves.


Now, as for us, we are of course going to be back there again, playing basketball. But, I would be lying if I said the motorcycle dude has not managed to inject some poison and anxiety into our enjoyment of the park. What really pisses me off is that now I do not feel it is safe for my son to go and play by himself. That means not even a free five minutes for me.


So this is the continuing story of a city homeschooling family. Children can hardly have any freedom of movement and have to be accompanied by adults. No wonder kids are basically locked up inside schools all day. And I thought we had liberated ourselves from the “cage” of schools…!



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