Florida: Thousands of students forced to undergo psych exams for disruptive behavior

Feb 2, 2018, Education Week: In Miami, Disruptive Students Are Handcuffed, Ordered to Undergo Psych Exams A 7-year-old at Miami’s Coral Way K-8 Center was handcuffed, put in the back of a police car and taken to a hospital for an involuntary psychiatric exam after he hit and kicked a teacher during lunch. On the same day, 15 miles south at Gulfstream Elementary, 10-year-old Kevin Bowles was begging his teachers not to call the police. The fourth-grader had gotten upset when a teacher told him to make up some schoolwork during recess last Thursday. As Kevin grew increasingly agitated, one of his teachers told the other to call the Baker Act number, Kevin later told his mother. Kevin knew what “Baker Act” meant. Two years earlier, during another meltdown, teachers at his old school had invoked the Florida law, which instructs police to take people who appear to be mentally ill and pose a danger to themselves or others for an involuntary psychiatric exam. On that occasion, Kevin’s parents had shown up just in time, before police could handcuff him.... A teacher’s aide took Kevin into the hallway to calm him down, but he bolted toward the front door. The assistant principal caught the 10-year-old before he made it outside. By the time Kevin’s mother arrived, Kevin had scratched his stomach, back and chest in distress. A few minutes later, police showed up…. South Florida families, like Kevin’s, say their children have been Baker Acted or suspended for behavior that stems from a developmental disability, such as autism. The Florida Mental Health Act, also known as the Baker Act, is supposed to help people with mental illness get a psychiatric evaluation if they’re unwilling or unable to get one on their own. It’s not supposed to be used on the basis of a developmental or intellectual disability or anti-social behavior. ... The families of special needs children, and the lawyers and activists who support them, say the Baker Act is being overused, leaving children traumatized and parents afraid to send their kids back to school. A Growing Problem State data show that a growing number of children are getting Baker Acted. A state task force convened last year to study the issue reported that the number of cases rose nearly 50 percent between Fiscal Year 2010-11 and Fiscal Year 2015-16, while the state’s population increased by less than 6 percent over the same period. Between July 2015 and July 2016 alone, more than 32,000 involuntary psychiatric exams were conducted on Florida children, accordng to data from the Baker Act Reporting Center at the University of South Florida. …

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