INVESTIGATES: Growing number of children at local schools Baker Acted by police

Questions raised if some school leaders are following Florida law requiring a “reasonable attempt” to notify parents or guardians

“How do you prepare for something like this?” asked Action News Jax Ben Becker.

“You pray,” said Fran Bellamy along with her husband Tony, who are praying for answers about their daughter that Action News Jax is not identifying because she is a minor.

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“I’m feeling my child is not safe now at school now,” Fran Bellamy said. “I worry about her there.”

The 14-year-old attends the River City Science Academy Charter School in Mandarin.

In March, a school official contacted Fran Bellamy with a terrifying message.

“They called me and told me my daughter is in crisis,” she said.

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The crisis? Fran Bellamy was informed that her daughter was having suicidal thoughts, nearly two weeks after attempting to kill herself.

Bellamy said she rushed to the school, but she didn’t know that police were called too.

“They said ‘The officer took her,’ and I said ‘Took her where?’” Fran Bellamy said.

It was to a mental facility, she was told.

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“I don’t think they followed proper protocol,” Bellamy said. “I don’t think they handled it adequately.”

Becker obtained body camera video from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office that shows an officer arriving at the school.

The girl proceeded to calmly admit to the officer that she’s had constant thoughts of suicide, which resulted in the officer making a decision with a school staff member present, but not the parents.

“I’m not a mental health counselor,” the officer can be heard saying on the body camera video. “I am not a medical professional. I can’t make determinations if you are good or not. You are not in any kind of trouble but I do have to take you with me.”

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According to the police report, the 14-year-old was “taken into custody under the provisions of the Baker Act.”

The Florida Baker Act law allows doctors, mental health professionals, judges, and law enforcement to commit a person to a mental health treatment center for up to 72 hours if they display certain violent or suicidal signs of mental illness.

The officer walked the girl out of school to his car and drove to a mental health facility with her handcuffed, per JSO policy.

“We (parents) are responsible for our children, not somebody else,” says Action News Jax Law and Safety Expert Dale Carson. He questions if the school acted too quickly by calling JSO around the same time as the girls’ parents.

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“It should not be a simultaneous phone call,” Carson said. “Give me a break.”

In 2021, Florida lawmakers passed Senate Bill 590. It “Requires public schools, including charter schools, to make a reasonable attempt to notify the parents of a minor student before the student is removed from school, school transportation or a school-sponsored activity for an involuntary mental health examination (Baker Act), unless the child poses an imminent danger to themselves or others.”

According to the most recent report by the University of South Florida, the Baker Act was used more than 37,000 times on children in fiscal year 2018-2019.

Duval County Public Schools tells Becker that 331 children have been Baker Acted between January 2020-April 2022 – including 116 by JSO and 154 by a crisis response team.

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“It’s imperative we decriminalize mental health,” said Theresa Rulien, who is President and CEO of Child Guidance Center.

The organization contracts with Duval County Public Schools to provide crisis response teams, but charter schools can opt out.

Becker learned River City Science Academy in Mandarin is opted in, but Rulien said her team was never contacted in the Bellamys’ case.

“A charter school can make their own decisions,” Rulien said.

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Becker emailed Alaaddin Akgul, the school principal at River City Science Academy in Mandarin who responded:

“I am very sorry to know there is a parent complaint. Here in River City Science Academy at Mandarin, we work diligently to help our parents address their concerns. We follow protocols to protect every child and provide a safe and nurturing learning environment. I cannot discuss any information regarding students due to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.”

Becker sent a follow-up email and asked if the school is complying with the law to “document the method, number of attempts and the outcome of each attempt made to contact the student’s parent, guardian or other known emergency contact” and the principal emailed back:

“Yes, we adopt those guidelines. We also communicate with our parents.”

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However, the Bellamys tell Becker they never received any of those records and have this message to school leaders and JSO.

“You are criminalizing potential of someone saying they are hurting or have suicidal tendencies and put handcuffs on them,” Tony Bellamy said.

“That’s a child,” Fran Bellamy said.

The Bellamys tell Becker that their daughter is back in school, but has good days and bad days.

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JSO sent Becker a statement regarding Baker Acts.

“The criteria for an involuntary examination commonly referred to as the “Baker Act” is contained in (Florida State Statute) F.S.S. 394.463(1). Should a subject meet this criteria, law enforcement officers should respond accordingly – without discretion.

“A “Baker Act” is not criminal in nature, therefore an officer may question a juvenile subject without the presence of a parent to determine if they meet the criteria found in the above referenced statute concerning involuntary examinations. If a subject is found to meet the criteria for an involuntary examination they are taken into custody.

“Per JSO policy officers shall use handcuffs and any other restraining devices necessary when transporting suspected mentally ill persons in order to protect the person, the officer, and others.”

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