Stoneman Douglas Commission Will Recommend More State Funding For Mental Health
This story was updated with additional information about potential legal action from the Southern Poverty Law Center at 1:03 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission wrapped up its two-day meeting in Orlando a couple hours earlier than planned on Wednesday.
The panel, which has been making school safety recommendations to the Legislature following the February 2018 Parkland shooting, discussed more than 150 pages worth' of findings and analysis for a draft of its second report.
In its new report, the commission wants the Legislature to allocate more funding for mental health services, though it did not specify by how much.
"They need help, they need somebody to guide them, they need somebody to navigate them, they need somebody to hold their hand through the process — and we simply don't have that," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said, refering to people in need of better mental healthcare.
Gualtieri chairs the commission.
The first report investigating what happened during the Stoneman Douglas shooting was released in January this year. It mostly held back on addressing mental health.
"The issues surrounding mental healthcare are complex," the initial report stated. "The commission will address this area further and provide additional recommendations beyond those detailed below to the Legislature by Jan. 15, 2020," the report stated.
The commission has one more conference call left this year and then it plans to get its finalized second report on to Gov. Ron DeSantis' desk by Nov. 1.
Gualtieri told commissioners that findings show people with acute mental health needs aren't getting help. Baker-Acting is on the rise in Florida; that’s when a person is forced to undergo evaluation for mental health issues.
But the evaluations are not translating to people getting treatment, according to the commission. The draft report cites 2018 data from the Baker Act Reporting Center at the University of South Florida.
The report shows the practice of Baker-Acting people in Florida has risen from more than 95,500 in 2002, to more than 205,700 in 2018.
Commissioners also want agencies that are Baker Act providers — the Agency For Healthcare Administration (AHCA), the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) - to develop a system that identifies people who are repeatedly Baker-Acted, and then draw up a course of action for them.
Later in the meeting, the commission decided to adjourn nearly three hours earlier than it planned to. That moved up public comments from the posted time of 4:45 p.m., to just after 2 p.m.
Representatives from the Southern Poverty Law Center, or SPLC, criticized the commission for adjourning early and possibly not hearing from some people who wanted to speak. They told WLRN, "we are looking into our options re: the extremely problematic events..."
"I would just ask that you please reconsider closing this meeting ... to allow for public comment by the people who may have made provisions, the students, the activists and other people who may have made provision to be here to speak to you and give you the input you so sorely and desperately need," Bacardi Jackson said. She's the managing attorney for the Miami office of the SPLC.
Earlier this week, the SPLC released a report in conjunction with The Aspen Institute expressing concerns over the commission's recommendations on school safety.
Jackson pointed out the commission's lack of diversity. It does not include students, current educators, designated advocates for students with disabilities or any voting members who are people of color.
"Not having this representation causes you to make recommendations that will do more harm than good to significant portions of our student population, and will make schools less safe, not more," Jackson argued.