Florida bill would notify parents if student is Baker Acted

Local teen taken to mental health facility by school after making comments

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It may seem like a law that should already be in place, but lawmakers are considering a new bill that would require principals to notify parents if their child is Baker Acted during the school day.

School officials at Wolfson High School had Alishia Montelongo, 15, transported to a mental health facility Monday after she made some troubling comments. Her family told News4Jax they weren't notified until they arrived to pick her up.

The proposed law basically puts a policy in place and principals would have to follow it.

Denise Marzullo, president and CEO for Mental Health America, is one of many surprised to learn there's no requirement for schools to call parents if their child is committed to a mental hospital.

"I mean, your first instinct is to think, 'Well, of course the school is going to call the parent.' That's the first thing they're going to do," said Marzullo. "I think it's horrible that a parent would be at home waiting for their child to come home from school and they don't come home from school. A million things run through your mind. Probably one of the last things would be an in-patient."

It's what happened to Alishia's family, who said Wolfson High School officials had her committed during the school day and failed to tell them about it until they arrived to pick her up.

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But under a new law making its way through Tallahassee, if a student was committed, responsibility would fall to school principals to notify parents or guardians of what is happening.

Marzullo said the bill takes out the guesswork and protects schools as well.

"There's so much concern about privacy, and all of our HIPAA privacy laws," said Marzullo. "I think that principals are probably not sure of what they're supposed to do: Are they supposed to call the parents? Is that violating something?"

It doesn't just apply to incidents right at school. The bill also covers incidents where students are removed from school buses and field trips. Plus, if there is a case where a parent or guardian is suspected of abuse, abandonment or neglect, principals can delay notifying them for up to 24 hours.

There is a catch: Delay in notification can only happen if the abuse or neglect has been reported to the Department of Children and Families tip line.

The bill has already passed through the Children, Families and Seniors Committee on the House side. If passed into law, it would go into effect in July.

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