What is the
Baker Act? How is it Abused
in Florida Schools?
Enacted in 1971, the Florida Mental
commonly known as the "Baker Act",
helps protect the rights of the mentally ill who
could be a danger to themselves or the public.
It was originally intended as a means of
preventing elder abuse in which one or more
family members would have another family member
committed in order to gain control of their
estate prior to death. However, the Baker Act
also applies to children, and allows for their
voluntary or involuntary placement in a mental
health facility for psychiatric evaluation,
which can last up to 72 hours. Between January
2002 and November 2004,
over 49,000 certificates
were issued to Baker Act a child in the State of Florida.
of these were initiated by public schools who
exercise the Baker Act to manage unruly or
disruptive students in the classroom. Often times
these children have documented disabilities,
like ADHD, Autism, or other disorders which are
often manifested as behavior problems. In
cases like these, teachers and administrators
abuse the Baker Act to get the kids out of their
classrooms and scare the parents into taking
their children out of school, or even
homeschooling their children for their own
The story below is just one of
thousands which occur each year in Florida.
This 7-year-old boy undoubtedly had a
troublesome day at school, but does that warrant
spending the night alone in a mental hospital?
Did something happen in the classroom that
precipitated an outburst? Was this a child with a
documented disability? Could the situation have
been handled more appropriately in a less
threatening and restrictive manner? How
would you react if this was your child?
Police hospitalize 7-year-old under Baker Act
[Article copied from
Jonathan Abel, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Saturday, February 14, 2009
Police this week removed an unruly 7-year-old from his classroom
and forced him to be hospitalized under the state's Baker Act ó
against the wishes of his outraged parents.
spent the night alone at Morton
Plant Hospital before he was
seen by a child psychologist the next day and discharged.
a total abuse of police power," said the boy's father, Richard
Smith, 41. "My son has no mental health problems. He's never
hurt himself. He's never hurt anyone else."
and his wife, Barbara, said they want to consult a lawyer.
Largo deputy police Chief John Carroll said his officers did the right
accounts, the second-grader threw a tantrum at Mildred Helms
Elementary on Wednesday. Carroll said the boy tore up the room
during his fit. In the process, he stepped on a teacher's foot
and "battered" a school administrator.
said the tantrum was so bad that school officials had to
evacuate students from the classroom.
officials called the parents and police. When officers arrived,
they decided the boy needed a mental health examination.
not the first time the boy had acted up, Carroll said, and the
lead officer, Michael Kirkpatrick, decided the boy couldn't just
go home again with his mother.
felt that this young man needed some mental health service he
wasn't getting," Carroll explained. "The Baker Act is a kind of
a Band-Aid that allows us to have somebody introduced to the
service providers that can actually do something for him."
Smith said she could have defused the situation had officers let
her see her son. Instead, they kept her from him as they
conducted their investigation, she said.
police decided to take him to a hospital, she agreed to ride
with the boy in a police car to comfort him.
incident was terrifying for the boy, whose name is not being
used by the St. Petersburg Times. Barbara Smith is
keeping the boy and his 9-year-old sister out of school because
they are "scared to death" to go back, she said.
Baker Act allows people to be taken for mental health
examination against their will. But it requires a person show a
substantial likelihood of causing serious injury to himself or
that, police cannot use the Baker Act to take someone into
custody against their will, even if they think the person needs
help, said Raine Johns, who handles Baker Act cases for the
Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender's Office.
not the purpose of the Baker Act at all," said Johns, who is not
involved in the case. "Stepping on somebody's foot doesn't rise
to the level of substantial bodily harm."
Lenderman, a Pinellas-based Baker Act expert, said a child can
be taken against parents' wishes, but only if he meets all the
said she has seen children as young as 7 taken into custody
under the Baker Act before, but usually it's voluntary.
schools police report they have been involved in 83 Baker Acts
from the beginning of the school year to the start of this week.
That does not include any handled by other police agencies.
Board member Peggy O'Shea said she didn't think that sounded
like a large number given the 105,000 students in Pinellas
board member Janet Clark noted there were several other Baker
Acts in Pinellas schools that day. She plans to raise the issue
with the superintendent.
officials said a region superintendent has agreed to meet with
the Smiths and the principal.
said the it's not as if police officers enjoy taking kids into
like the big tough cops with the tiny kid," he said.
the case of this boy, it was justified.
child got interviewed by mental health professionals," he said.
"He didn't get arrested. There's no criminal charges against
Smith and his wife are not sure of their next step.
can't just sweep this under the carpet," she said. "We do want
to talk to a lawyer. Ö Our main goal is to make sure this does
not happen to another family."
In Largo, Florida, a 7-year-old boy misbehaved at school. That's because he's, like, only 7.
In a free country, grade school children being unruly would not typically be a news story. But Florida isn't a free country.
The Sunshine State is the home of the much-abused Baker Act. Under this law, any person of any age can at any time be transported to a psychiatric ward almost on the say-so of any other person. If you snap your finger, point at someone, and say, "Lock 'em up," off they go.
And it's up to the facility to decide when to release the person. If some money-grubbing psych ward can get insurance money to keep somebody locked up, they will.
In the latest case, police came to the school and promptly
transported the child to a mental ward
- without his parents' permission. The boy spent the night alone at the facility before being released the following day.
Police say the youngster attacked a school administrator, but if that's what the school told the cops, I frankly do not believe the school. Not for a second. A lot of folks have been falsely accused of attacking school personnel, and they've been wrongly called liars when they denied it. Happens to everyone in that situation, it seems.
Local experts say that even if the boy did what the "official" story claims, the police taking him to a psych ward was still an abuse of the Baker Act, because he posed almost no real threat.
It turns out that on the very same day as this incident, the county's schools also had several other Baker Act lockups. Is the school system going to say with a straight face that there was a sudden pandemic of classroom misbehavior?
Welcome to the police state, folks.
Little punk? The parents repentant? And ashamed of
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