“Schools Struggle with Misuse of Emergency Petitions for Students”

by Ethan Kim
School Psychiatric Evaluations

In Wicomico County, Maryland, a troubling pattern has emerged over the past eight years. On average, three times a week, police cars arrive at local schools to transport students, some as young as 5 years old, to hospital emergency rooms for psychiatric evaluations. This practice, known as petitions for emergency evaluation, is intended for individuals with severe mental illness who pose a danger to themselves or others, serving as the first step towards involuntary commitment to a psychiatric hospital.

However, advocates argue that schools across the nation are increasingly using emergency petitions in response to behavioral issues stemming from bullying or frustration over assignments. These hospital trips often come after months or even years of unmet needs. Black students and those with disabilities are disproportionately affected.

Wicomico County schools pledged not to misuse emergency petitions in a 2017 settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. While suspensions and expulsions decreased, mandated trips to the emergency room rose.

Last year, over 100 children from Wicomico schools were handcuffed and sent to the emergency room, with more than 40% of them aged 12 or younger, and over half being Black children, despite comprising a smaller portion of the student population.

Advocates and parents point to a lack of resources, insufficiently trained staff, and a punitive school culture as underlying causes for the misuse of emergency petitions. Students with disabilities often find themselves trapped in a system ill-equipped to address their unique needs, leading to frustration and inappropriate responses from schools.

While Wicomico County school officials insist that emergency petitions are reserved for extreme, life-threatening situations, data shows a different reality. The reasons for the disproportionate use of emergency petitions in Wicomico compared to other Maryland districts remain unclear.

The 2017 settlement aimed to reduce racial and disability-related disparities in suspensions and alternative school placements but failed to address the root causes of the problem. Parents and educators argue that more training for teachers and support for managing disruptive behavior could mitigate the reliance on emergency petitions.

Without comprehensive data on psychiatric assessments, it remains challenging to hold schools accountable for these actions. In many cases, children in distress are not receiving the support they need, and the civil rights of Black and disabled students are at risk.

The issue extends beyond Wicomico, as other regions, such as New York City, Kentucky, and Florida, also grapple with the inappropriate use of psychiatric assessments on students. Efforts to address the problem must consider the unique challenges faced by students with disabilities and prioritize resources to support their needs.

In conclusion, the misuse of emergency petitions in schools raises serious concerns about the well-being and civil rights of students, particularly those from marginalized communities. Addressing this issue requires a comprehensive approach that encompasses training, resources, and cultural awareness to provide better support for all students.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about School Psychiatric Evaluations

What are emergency petitions for psychiatric evaluation in schools?

Emergency petitions in schools involve the removal of students, typically to a hospital emergency room, for psychiatric evaluation. They are meant for individuals with severe mental illness who may pose a danger to themselves or others.

Why are emergency petitions being misused in some schools?

Advocates argue that emergency petitions are being misused in response to behavioral issues often triggered by bullying or frustration over assignments. This misuse is exacerbated by a lack of resources, insufficiently trained staff, and a punitive school culture.

What are the consequences of misusing emergency petitions?

Misuse of emergency petitions can lead to a disproportionate impact on marginalized students, including Black students and those with disabilities. It can also hinder their educational progress and put their civil rights at risk.

How is the issue being addressed?

Efforts to address the issue involve advocating for better training for teachers, more resources to support students with disabilities, and increased awareness of the cultural and emotional needs of students. Additionally, comprehensive data collection is crucial to holding schools accountable for their actions.

What can be done to prevent the misuse of emergency petitions?

Preventing misuse requires a multi-faceted approach, including proper training for educators, addressing the root causes of disruptive behavior, and providing adequate support for students with special needs. It also involves fostering a more inclusive and empathetic school culture.

More about School Psychiatric Evaluations

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ConcernedParent December 5, 2023 - 10:54 pm

im glad dis article sheds light on dis problem. my kid goes to skool here n it’s worrisome. dey need to stop misusing emegency petitions.

Reader101 December 6, 2023 - 1:20 am

whew, dis sounds like a serious issue in skools. dey need beter training for teachers and more help for kids wif special needs. it’s just not fair for some students.

Advocate4Kids December 6, 2023 - 3:34 am

gud read! schools gotta remember the rights of all students, espeshly those wif disabilities. more trainin and support needed.


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