Education Law

6-year-old is held without mother's consent under involuntary commitment law

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A Florida mother says her 6-year-old daughter is traumatized after she was held without consent at a mental health facility following a temper tantrum at her school.

The girl was held under Florida’s Baker Act, a law that allows involuntary commitment for up to 72 hours when people are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

The New York Times, the Tampa Bay Times and the Florida Times-Union (here and here) have coverage.

Tuesday coverage from the Hill indicated that the mother is planning to take legal action against the school district.

The girl was held for 48 hours after police in Jacksonville received information Feb. 4 that the girl “was destroying school property, attacking staff, out of control and running out of school.” A crisis response company decided that the girl should be admitted for evaluation.

A spokesperson for the school said the crisis response company made the decision to send the girl to the health center.

“When a student’s behavior presents a risk of self-harm or harm to others, the school district’s procedure is to call Child Guidance, our crisis response provider,” the spokesperson said in a statement to the Hill. “Our staff followed that procedure.”

The 6-year-old’s case is an example of the way that the Baker Act is increasingly being used by public schools, according to a Tampa Bay Times. While commitments under the law are up for all age groups, they have risen most dramatically for children, according to a December investigative story by the newspaper.

In the Tampa Bay area alone, children were taken from public schools and placed in mental health facilities in Tampa Bay more than 7,500 times over the last seven years.

The mother of the 6-year-old girl, Martina Falk, said her daughter has a mood disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. “The school called me after the decision to Baker Act was made,” Falk told the New York Times. She says she wasn’t allowed to see her daughter until several hours after she arrived at the mental health facility.

The girl was in a secluded room and wearing a diaper, Falk told the Florida Time-Union. “She kept saying ‘Mommy, I want to go home,’ ” Falk said.

Police body-camera video shows that the girl was calm by the time she walked to the police car. Inside the car, the child asked whether the officer had any snacks and whether she was on a field trip. The officer tells a colleague that the child seems cooperative. “I don’t see her acting how they said. She’s been actually very pleasant,” the officer said.

School officials maintained that the officers were not present during the altercation, and the decision had already been made, according to the school spokesperson’s statement. Falk’s legal team says her daughter didn’t need to be taken to or kept in the facility if she was calm. The daughter is now attending another school, the New York Times reported.

Reganel Reeves, a lawyer representing Falk, said in a statement to the Hill that Falk is preparing to file a lawsuit “that will be seeking redress for my client’s civil right’s violations and emotional distress.”

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