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Palm Beach County School Board considers policy changes related to Baker Act

Civil Rights group finds more than 1,200 students handcuffed, sent for mental health exam
Posted at 6:02 PM, Sep 21, 2021

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Palm Beach County School Board is considering safeguards to a policy that removes students, some as young as five, in handcuffs from classrooms.

The students are then sent for a mental health exam under Florida's Baker Act law.

The change comes six months after a national civil rights group singled out Florida and Palm Beach County.

A Contact 5 Investigation found children as young as five were hauled out of class in handcuffs by school resource officers and then sent to mental health facilities for exams.

In its report, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) found Palm Beach County Schools used the Baker Act as punishment, often confusing mental illness with disabilities like autism.

The SPLC also found schools using the Baker Act disproportionately on African-American students.

It called the policy "costly and cruel."

Palm Beach County schools are considering new rules that would call for more training and limit the number of staffers who could have a child committed.

The SPLC applauds the changes but adds it does not go far enough.

"I think steps that need to be taken are to really take police out of the process as much as possible," said Sam Boyd, an SPLC attorney. "This policy still contemplates police being involved in decisions to Baker Act, and it's still apparently will involve police continuing to transport children, in handcuffs, in marked cars."

The School Board will review this new proposal, which it calls a change in its student mental health policy, at Wednesday evening's meeting.

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