TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A proposal that would require school officials to verify that de-escalation tactics have been used before a student can be involuntarily committed under the Baker Act is headed to the House floor.
The House Education Committee unanimously backed the bill (HB 1083) on Wednesday, with Republicans and Democrats saying that more needs to be done to address problems with how the Baker Act is used at schools.
State Rep. Jennifer Webb, D-Gulfport, said she sponsored the bill after learning about an increasing number of students being committed under the Baker Act in her district.
“In the past seven years, children have been taken from public schools in my area --- in the Tampa Bay area --- 7,500 times and Baker Acted. And over the last five years, the rate of Baker Acts has risen by 35 percent at our schools,” she told the committee.
In Jacksonville, a mother is demanding answers after her 6-year-old daughter was was involuntarily committed to a mental health facility after an episode at Love Grove Elementary School.
The bill would require public- and charter-school principals and their designees to ensure de-escalation tactics have been used and that the school has reached out to a mobile-crisis response team before the student is involuntarily removed from school. The bill provides an exemption in situations where the principal believes any delay in committing the student under the Baker Act would “increase the likelihood of harm to the student or others.”
Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, said that, as an attorney, he works with many people who face legal issues after being involuntarily committed.
“There is a problem with our Baker Act in general, but especially as it relates to children,” Byrd said. “We need to come up with some intermediary step for minors.”
Webb said her bill adds a verification step that “ensures that intervention for a student happens before he or she is removed from campus.”
A similar bill (SB 1062) has stalled in the Senate, where it has been approved by only one of its three assigned committees.