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6-Year-Old With Disabilities Involuntarily Committed to Mental Health Facility

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The family of a 6-year-old with disabilities expressed outrage after she was involuntarily committed to a mental health facility by her elementary school’s crisis response provider. Now the family plans to sue.

Nadia King, a kindergartener at Love Grove Elementary in Jacksonville, Florida, had a rough start to her morning on Feb. 4, and began “throwing a tantrum.” According to the New York Times, the school said King “was destroying school property, attacking staff, out of control and running out of school.” King has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and global developmental delay and is being evaluated for autism, according to CNN.

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In response to King’s behavior, the school followed its policy of calling an outside, private nonprofit behavioral health care organization, Child Guidance. It was a licensed mental health professional from this firm, the school said, that advised school officials King should be involuntarily committed to a mental health facility for evaluation.

“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,” Tracy A. Pierce, a spokeswoman for Duval County Public Schools, told the Times in a statement. “Our staff followed that procedure.”

The school called law enforcement to have King taken to a facility for evaluation. Police body camera video shows King walking calmly out to the police car with officers and the school principal. King can be heard asking for snacks and if she’s going on a field trip or to jail. Officers can be heard in the video saying, “She’s been actually very pleasant,” while another one responds, “I think it’s more of them not wanting to deal with it.”

King was taken to River Point Behavioral Health. Once King was there, her mother, Martina Falk, was not allowed to see her for nearly seven hours. Falk told the Times when she was able to visit her daughter, King was sedated in a secluded room at the facility, a treatment center open to people of all ages. King was held for 48 hours.

“I was crying, I was hysterical, I was angry,” Falk said. “I don’t think she should have been Baker Acted. Why did they feel this was necessary?”

The decision to commit King to a mental health facility was made under a Florida law called the Baker Act. Under the controversial law, certain authorities can have a person involuntarily committed for emergency mental health treatment or evaluation for up to 72 hours if they meet strict criteria. According to the Florida Department of Children and Families, more than 36,000 minors under the age of 18 were involuntarily examined under the Baker Act during the 2017-2018 school year.

The Baker Act handbook, however, advises those considering the Baker Act to look at other statutes for people with developmental disabilities. Such involuntary commitment laws have long been contested by disability advocates. People with developmental disabilities have historically been more likely to be institutionalized, marginalized and labeled as a “burden” to society due to negative disability attitudes. People of color are also more likely to be involuntarily committed.

This is also not the first time a school has enacted what parents and advocates have called overly reactive consequences. In November 2019, Maggie Gaines’ 6-year-old daughter Margot, who has Down syndrome, pointed her finger at a teacher and said, “I shoot you,” as an expression of anger during a stressful transition. Though authorities at Valley Forge Elementary School in Pennsylvania determined Margot’s actions were not a threat, a strict district policy led to a call to the police anyway.

Falk said initially she chose to send King to Love Grove Elementary because it had a good reputation for working with children with disabilities. But since this incident, King transferred to another school. Falk’s lawyer told the Times the family intends to sue the school while Falk wants to get life back to normal for King.

“We are trying to get back to having everything as normal as possible,’’ Falk said. “We are maintaining.”

Header image via Twitter

Originally published: February 18, 2020
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