A second high-ranking employee of Miami-Dade Public Schools has been reassigned as the district investigates allegations of overusing the Baker Act.
Suzy Milano-Berrios, the director of mental health and crisis management, has been removed to the attendance services office, reports the Miami Herald.
"The school district routinely reassigns personnel while investigations are being conducted," MDCPS spokesman John Schuster told HuffPost, calling the report "extremely misleading."
Allegations that district police were instructed by then-Chief Charles Hurley to Baker Act, rather than arrest, students in an effort to pad crime statistics first surfaced in mid-May with the filing of several complaints from "high-ranking" officers.
The Baker Act, known officially as the Florida Mental Health Act, allows law enforcement to place individuals who are a risk to themselves under “temporary detention for evaluation.” If necessary, they can be placed in a treatment facility for up to 72 hours.
Statistics show Baker Act cases in Miami-Dade schools have nearly doubled in the last five years; records from the 2011-2012 school year indicate 646 instances in Miami-Dade but just 120 in Broward County and 250 in Palm Beach County, the state's top two and fifth-largest districts.
Schuster attributed the rise to school staff's increased understanding "regarding crisis intervention and the early warning signs of at-risk behaviors which could lead to suicide, school violence and/or homicide."
According to a previous Herald report, similar allegations against Milano-Berrios were made by a well-respected school psychologist:
Frank Zenere wrote an internal complaint this month to a high-ranking school official saying his boss — Suzy Milano-Berrios, who...has been the subject of a slew of recent complaints from her own employees — “coerced us to persuade school officials and school police to Baker Act students, even at times when it was not warranted.”
Similar concern has reached Habsi Kaba, who coordinates Miami-Dade County’s Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT, program. She trains officers in mental health issues and the Baker Act and serves as their liaison.
“It has been brought to my attention that there has been some pressure to initiate involuntary exams,” Kaba said.
(Flickr photo by Barbara Hall.)
Previously on HuffPost: