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Proposal Addresses Schools’ Use Of Baker Act

Woman addressing classroom full of children
Wikimedia Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Principals at Florida public schools would need to take additional steps before children can be removed from school grounds and involuntarily committed under the Baker Act, under a bill approved by a House panel on Tuesday. 

The measure (HB 1083) would require principals and their designees to make sure de-escalation tactics have been used before students can be transported to facilities to be involuntarily examined.

The bill provides an exemption in situations where the principal believes any delay in removing the student would “increase the likelihood of harm to the student or others.” The proposal “is my contribution to helping ensure that we are saving the Baker Act for those kids who truly need it and we are not Baker Acting children who would be better addressed by other means,” state Rep. Jennifer Webb, D-Gulfport, the sponsor of the bill, told the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee Tuesday.

Webb told the committee that the bill is in response to a growing concern that Florida’s public schools are not always using the Baker Act “responsibly and judiciously.”

Currently, the proposal does not require a principal or their designee to immediately notify a parent if a child is committed under the Baker Act. State Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, said he would like to see parental consent added to the bill as it moved forward. But House PreK-12 Innovation Chairman Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, saw the benefit in the exemption.

“In an emergent situation, I would not recommend in any legislation that we have to get someone else’s consent to be able to perform that service because now you are tying the hands of the individuals who are there to help,” Massullo said.

The Senate Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs unanimously approved a similar measure (SB 1062) Tuesday afternoon.