Improper Baker Acting of Students
One of the most disturbing calls we, as special education attorneys ever receive are those from parents whose child has been removed from school and involuntarily transferred to a mental health facility under a Short-Term Emergency Commitment (STEC). In Florida, the statute that allows for short-term emergency commitment is a 48-year-old law known as the Baker Act.
These alleged “short-term emergency commitments” are rarely done properly or for the right reasons in schools. Please see an article written by Diane Stein, President – Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) Florida.
The Baker Act is an outdated antiquated law allowing for Short Term Emergency Commitment (STEC) but only when there is reason to believe that a student poses an imminent serious danger to himself or others.
Florida’s Baker Act allows police officers / School Resource Officers (SRO) and some mental health professionals to hospitalize the mentally ill, but it was never intended to be used on children with autism or children who act out in class. While this 48-year-old law even says those with developmental disabilities should not be committed unless they’re also mentally ill and a danger to themselves or others, this law is rarely followed properly because the SRO officers are not properly trained.
“Time and time again, we are seeing school districts use the Baker Act as a means of student behavioral control and this cannot be tolerated.”
The Florida Mental Health Act of 1971, commonly known as the “Baker Act”, allows the involuntary institutionalization and examination of an individual. The Baker Act allows for involuntary examination and institutionalization of a student for up to 72 hours.
Across Florida, the number of children involuntarily transported each year to a mental health center has doubled in the last 15 years to about 36,000, or 100 a day, according to the Baker Act Reporting Center at the University of South Florida. More than 4,000 were under the age of 10.
The Tampa Bay Times found officers hospitalized children who had a meltdown, refused a teacher’s order, or drew a troubling picture. Some kids vaguely threatened to hurt themselves. Other children exhibited behavior that was typical for their developmental disabilities and identified in their federal education plans.
Often, the Baker Act of a child happens without parents’ knowledge or consent, and once the process is underway, parents have no rights under the law to challenge a decision. These interactions with police can be particularly scary for parents of special needs children who struggle with tantrums and communication.