"The hottest places in hell are reserved for good people, who in times of moral crisis, choose to do nothing."         - Dante



baker act

What is the Baker Act?  How is it Abused in Florida Schools?

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Enacted  in 1971, the Florida Mental Health Act, 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. Several 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 safety.

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?     

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Police hospitalize 7-year-old under Baker Act

[Article copied from tampabay.com   http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/article975987.ece]

By Jonathan Abel, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Saturday, February 14, 2009

LARGO ó 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.

The boy spent the night alone at Morton Plant Hospital before he was seen by a child psychologist the next day and discharged.

"This is 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."

Smith and his wife, Barbara, said they want to consult a lawyer.

But Largo deputy police Chief John Carroll said his officers did the right thing.

By all 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.

Carroll said the tantrum was so bad that school officials had to evacuate students from the classroom.

School officials called the parents and police. When officers arrived, they decided the boy needed a mental health examination.

This was 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.

"He just 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."

Barbara 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.

When police decided to take him to a hospital, she agreed to ride with the boy in a police car to comfort him.

The 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.

The 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 others.

Absent 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.

"That's 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."

Martha Lenderman, a Pinellas-based Baker Act expert, said a child can be taken against parents' wishes, but only if he meets all the criteria.

Johns said she has seen children as young as 7 taken into custody under the Baker Act before, but usually it's voluntary.

Pinellas 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.

School Board member Peggy O'Shea said she didn't think that sounded like a large number given the 105,000 students in Pinellas schools.

School 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.

School officials said a region superintendent has agreed to meet with the Smiths and the principal.

Carroll said the it's not as if police officers enjoy taking kids into custody.

"We look like the big tough cops with the tiny kid," he said.

But in the case of this boy, it was justified.

"The child got interviewed by mental health professionals," he said. "He didn't get arrested. There's no criminal charges against him."

Richard Smith and his wife are not sure of their next step.

"We 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."

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Blogger Comments:

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.

(Source: http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/article975987.ece)


Little punk? The parents repentant? And ashamed of themselves?

First of all, again, unless you have some inside information, there is far too little information to make any grand judgments about the kid and certainly about the parents. You know neither the kid nor the parents. You donít know the teachers or administrators involved (and neither do I).
Make all of the excuses you want for the educators, but anyone who cannot handle a seven year old without calling the police is in over their head and shouldnít be teaching.
Small children donít have the strength to hurt anyone beyond a sting...

A school psychologist should have been called. The mother was there. The grownups should have discussed the issues and come to some agreement about a future course of action. If the school officials werenít satisfied with the parents response they could move the kid into a class for children with emotional issues or suspend him/her.

A parent was there, willing to deal with the child without involving the police.

Fear of a lawsuit is an excuse and, anyway, there is still the possibility of a lawsuit with the way this was handled.

Taking the kid to Morton Plant Hospital? How are they better equipped to handle a seven year old? Their website doesnít mention psychiatric services and canít administer medication without parental approval, anyway.

Yeah, and smacking a kid is always the answer. Why stop at a spanking? Whip him with a hose and lock him inside the bathroom like the couple up in Spring Hill. Taser him.

How dare a kid in a public school have problems! The punk! How dare he not fit into the pigeonhole public schools put him in! How dare the parents not be perfect in childrearing or have a perfect child! Stone them! Put them on the rack! Take the kid away from them and into the foster care system in Florida. We all know how well children do in foster care, right?

I know you believe in corporal punishment. I donít. Iíve raised kids to adulthood and have, at times, had to restrain them. I have never had to spank or hit them. It takes more time to deal with them that way, itís more inconvenient but so what? Time is the minimum of what you are supposed to be what you give to your kids.

The article stated that this wasnít the first time this had happened. How many times are we talking about? What was the upshot of that(those)time(s)? Again, if there is a problem, all problems arenít solvable in a half-hour, these things take time.

Yes, it is regrettable that the outburst inconvenienced the other students in the class, but that all it is to them, an inconvenience. If I was the parent of one of the other children in the class, I would be more concerned about the behavior of the adults than the child. If the behavior of one child can cause them to spaz out like this, what would make me think that they could handle 20?

Posted on February 17th, 2009 at 2:13 pm
by Mark on the Cape


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