State Rep. Jennifer Webb, D-Gulfport, and state Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, are sponsoring bills that would change the way Baker Act cases are handled in school situations in Florida.
The bill would require law enforcement officers to use the least restrictive mode of restraint possible when transporting students to mental health facilities.
The Baker Act, originally known as the Florida Mental Health Act of 1971, provides temporary institutionalization for individuals who meet a certain criteria. Officials who use this must have sound evidence suggesting that the individual is at risk of harming himself or herself or someone else.
The bill also addresses notifying the student’s parents when their child is removed from school to a mental facility under the Baker Act.
An investigation by the Tampa Bay Times revealed that parents often were not being notified until their child is either on their way or already at the mental facility.
Julious Lowe, a 2019 graduate of Florida A&M University, is familiar with being in a Baker Act situation.
“I was put on the Baker Act on my parents’ wishes so I wouldn’t cause harm to them or myself,” Lowe said.
Lowe said it happened when he was in high school. He suffered a severe mental breakdown after being bullied, he said. He then came home and attempted to commit suicide.
His parents did what they thought was best and turned to the Baker Act to get him help, Lowe said.
Students can benefit from this bill especially if the law enforcement and school resource officers are properly trained on how to deal with a student going through a crisis. The bill would enforce this issue, requiring the officers to go through crisis intervention training with a focus on children.
The bill would also be beneficial to parents because they will be notified that their child is in a crisis before officials involuntarily transport them.
“Law enforcement need to be trained and know when to use excessive force and when not to use it,” said Lowe. “Officials should always notify the parents first, but at the same time I am in support of making sure the student’s safety is a priority.”
Martha Lenderman, an expert on the Baker Act, thinks that many Baker Act cases stem from a lack of funding.
“If the Legislature would allocate appropriate funding for intervention and treatment for children with mental illness, then maybe we wouldn’t have nearly so many Baker Act cases,” she said.
Harrell filed her bill last year; Webb filed hers earlier this month.