Family upset after 9-year-old taken from school

Arien Woods
Arien Woods
Posted at 10:51 PM, Mar 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-24 12:35:37-04

JASPER, Fla. (WTXL) - A family is furious at school officials after a nine-year-old boy was taken out of school against his will.

Ariel Johnson was shocked when she found out her son, Arien Woods, was on his way to a mental facility Monday after a bullying incident at Hamilton County Elementary School.

"I got real mad and then ripped my paper up a little bit and threw it away. Then I said I wanted to kill myself," said Woods, a 2nd grader. Woods said he didn't mean it when he told school officials he wanted to hurt himself.

A Hamilton County deputy took Arien from his elementary school in Jasper 40 miles away to Meridian Behavioral Healthcare in Lake City. This is legal under the Florida Mental Health Act, known as the Baker Act. It allows for emergency, involuntary examination if someone says they plan to hurt themselves.

However, Johnson says school officials never called to tell her what was happening.

"What brought it to the point where he had to be Baker Acted?" asked Johnson. "The school should've called before it even got to that point."

"He was crying when I got [to the Meridian Behavioral Healthcare]," said Johnson. "I was able to take him home because the psychiatrist asked me if he's ever said he was going to hurt himself, kill himself. I said no, not once. She then said, 'Well, I see no reason to keep him. It seems like the school overreacted.'"

School officials wouldn't give WTXL any details about what happened because of student privacy rules. We asked the superintendent, in general, about the district's policy when it comes to the Baker Act. He did not want to comment.

Hamilton County Sheriff J. Harrell Reid says the deputy was simply doing his job.

"As law enforcement, we just have to act statutorily," said Sheriff Reid. "We can't decide if it's real or not real. Once the evidence or the statements are made, we have to act on them. We don't have any choice about that.

Johnson thinks the Baker Act should be revised, saying: "If it's a minor, their parents or someone that's a legal guardian should be there with them."

Johnson says her son will not be returning to Hamilton Elementary. He'll get a fresh start by enrolling at a new school.