MIAMI — School district officials in Florida said they followed standard protocol last week when a 7-year-old boy was placed in handcuffs and removed from his school — and they say it is the second time since the school year began that the first-grader had to be restrained after displaying aggressive behaviour.
The latest episode happened Thursday, when a teacher at the Coral Way K-8 Center in Miami told the boy to stop playing with his food in the cafeteria. When the child refused to stop, he was taken from the cafeteria, according to an incident report from Miami-Dade County Public Schools police officer Munick Soriano.
The report said the boy hit the teacher repeatedly in the back when they were in a hallway outside the cafeteria. The child continued punching and kicking the teacher until they both fell on the ground, according to the report, which also said he grabbed her hair.
The boy was hospitalized briefly at Miami Children’s Hospital under the Florida Mental Health Act, based on behavioural criteria that indicated he could pose a threat to himself or others, school district officials said. Authorities later said it was the second time officers had resorted to handcuffing the student under the same law.
The child’s mother, Mercy Alvarez, said her son doesn’t have a mental disorder. Instead, she called her son’s arrest “police abuse.”
“If my child wasn’t aggressive anymore when we got there, like they were saying he was before, why take such extreme measures?” she said.
Alvarez said her child didn’t show aggressive behaviour at home until the school year started; she said in past years he had gotten good grades, participated in other activities and behaved well.
“This is too much for a boy that age to go through. It can’t be a normal procedure,” she said.
The Associated Press does not typically identify minors who have been arrested but is naming the child’s mother because she has spoken openly on social media and to newspaper reporters about the case. She recorded the arrest of her son last week with her cellphone and shared it on Facebook, where it has been viewed nearly 3 million times.
In his report, Soriano wrote that another teacher and several students witnessed the incident, which was also captured on the school’s surveillance camera. The boy’s parents were notified and came to the school, the report said.
The child’s father agreed with school officials that the child should be taken to a mental health facility, the report said. But the mother disagreed, telling officials nothing was wrong with her son. Alvarez said the officer was threatening to take the child to jail if they didn’t agree to have him taken to a mental health facility for an evaluation.
The teacher told the officer her back was hurting after the incident but she didn’t have any visible injuries. She told officials she intends to press charges, the report said.
Ian Moffett, the school district’s police chief, said in a statement that it was “rare for students this young to be Baker Acted,” referring to a Florida law that allows police and certain other officials to initiate an involuntary institutionalization for a psychological evaluation.
“However this action was warranted to prevent his erratic and violent behaviour from bringing further harm to others or himself,” the statement said.
Moffett said the officer followed standard operating procedures in taking the child to the hospital. However, the district’s Professional Compliance Unit is investigating the incident.
Later Monday, school district officials released a report showing this was the second time the boy had been restrained at school and taken to the same hospital for an examination. According to the report, the student punched students and staff members on Nov. 30 and acted aggressively toward Soriano when he responded.
The district says the boy was allowed to ride with a parent to the hospital that time. Alvarez said neither she nor the child’s father was allowed to accompany him, either in November or last week.
Adriana Gomez Licon, The Associated Press