Thousands of Florida Children Have Been Charged Under the Baker Act

The Baker Act, a mental-health statute, was used in 5,077 instances in Florida during the previous academic year, according to information provided on Wednesday to a panel on school safety.

An approximately 50-year-old state statute known as the Baker Act gives judges, law enforcement officials, and specific medical professionals the power to compel the transport of individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others to institutions for up to 72 hours.

According to the Florida Department of Children and Families, individuals who are brought into facilities without their will are required to undergo first medical or clinical psychological evaluations. Additionally, they cannot be released within the 72-hour window without written consent from doctors or psychologists.

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According to a statute passed by the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis last year, school districts are obligated to report Baker Act statistics. The number of pupils who are admitted to facilities as a result of incidents that start on school grounds, on school buses, or at school-sponsored events is reported by districts.

The Baker Act data was evaluated by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission on Wednesday along with other school safety issues. The commission was established following the 2018 Parkland high school shooting. The study was the first to examine Baker Act incidences specifically in schools across the state.

According to the data, 4,844 distinct pupils were taken from campuses during the most recent school year for Baker Act-required compulsory mental exams. The chairman of the commission, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, said: “That suggests that there were 233 duplicates.”

However, because the data lacks personally identifying information, we are unable to determine whether one student received 10 Baker Acts or whether 233 students received 2 Baker Acts. However, it demonstrates that the majority of the Baker acts on campus are one-time occurrences.

Additionally, school-age children who were subject to the Baker Act outside of educational settings were not included in the data. A Baker Act Reporting Center at the University of South Florida College of Behavioral and Community Sciences gathers information on Baker Act incidents for the Department of Children and Families.

According to the center’s most recent data, children under the age of 18 made up 17.74 percent of Florida’s 128,193 involuntary Baker Act subjects during the 2019–2020 fiscal year. School safety officials have not been able to assess trends of involuntary examinations that begin in schools because the reporting requirement is new for school districts.

To provide any context, Gualtieri added, “it’s probably going to take a couple of years of data, and then looking at it.” However, Florida politicians have recently examined a number of bills addressing the Baker Act, with some claiming that it is being utilized excessively on younger children and in schools.

Senior Chancellor of the State Department of Education Jacob Oliva referred to a different new mandate that schools appoint mental-health coordinators. This year’s legislation added that obligation, which might aid officials in future understanding of the data. Is there a lack of resources and we’re just playing like kids because we don’t have anyone else to contact when we have our convenings and meet with people regionally?

How can we begin analyzing this data before creating some strategic strategies based on it? These discussions are beginning to take place at a much higher level, according to Oliva. Douglas Dodd, a commission member, urged for more specific statistics to be reported on the grade levels of pupils who are subjected to mental health exams.

“As a member of the school board, what deeply worries me is when I witness these younger kids, these elementary school kids, being Baker behaved. And I’d like to know whether there’s a method to tell what kind of school it is—elementary, middle, or high school. Because of an increase in younger pupils who are Baker acting, said Dodd, a member of the Citrus County School Board and a former school resource officer.

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