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Florida: More and more students forced to undergo mental health exams/parents have no say

Nov 5, 2018, Click Orlando-area schools see increase in Baker Acts on students after Parkland shooting Earlier this year, 11-year-old Alondra Centeno, who has autism, was taken out of school and forced to undergo a mental health evaluation. Because it was done under Florida's Baker Act, it was done without her or her parent's consent. "Being separated from my mom really scared me," Centeno said. "I had two nights where I just cried myself to sleep." Centeno's mother, Windy Castro, also called the situation devastating. The incident happened a week after the Parkland shooting. Centeno said she told a substitute teacher at her elementary school that she had suicidal thoughts, but Castro said that by the time she got the call from the school, her daughter was already being taken away by law enforcement. … Centeno was taken to the University Behavior Center in Orlando, where she was held for three days. "They did not let me get close to her at all," Castro said…. Officials said Centeno's situation isn't unheard of. It's happening more and more in several Central Florida Schools, especially since the deadly Parkland shooting… "All of our schools now have a mental health designee on campus who's been trained on how to react to students who do present a threat or state they may harm themselves," said Mary Bridges, the senior director of student services at Orange County Public Schools. "And we're training administrators and those mental health designees to work with law enforcement to make sure our students are safe." … "What we are seeing is an increase in students who really are having anxiety and stress more than we've seen in the past," Bridges said. … Demps said because of Parkland and the new Public Safety Act, more attention is being placed on early intervention. She said with all the things kids see on air and online, they are facing more stressors than ever before, which can and do affect their mental health. She agrees communication with parents is key. "Sometimes, kids are Baker Acted on the autism spectrum, and it may be that they are depressed or have a mental health crisis at that time, so that's a fine line to work with," Demps said. "The parents have to be involved." According to the Baker Act Reporting Center's annual report released in June, there were a total of 199,944 involuntary examinations done in the 2016-2017 fiscal year. The report also shows that the number of involuntary examinations has more than doubled in 16 years -- not just on the whole, but for children ages 5 to 17. … "At the end of the day, I don't think we are overusing it at all," Demps said. "It is making sure we are erring on the side of caution and that everyone stays safe." But Diane Stein, who heads the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, said both law enforcement and school personnel need more training and reporting requirements need to be improved. …

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