The door to the principal’s office opened suddenly. Mercy Álvarez turned and watched a Miami-Dade Schools Police officer enter to take her 7-year-old son into custody. Pain pierced her heart when her son was handcuffed. “Do not worry, my love,” she muttered to him, her voice choked with tears.
It was the second time in less than three months that school authorities punished her son by calling the police for behavioral problems. On this occasion, the boy supposedly hit the teacher after a scolding, according to the police report.
A tantrum, for sure. But a sanction that Álvarez considers disproportionate and outrageous.
“This is police abuse; a whim of the officer, because my son was calm when they came to look for him,” says the mother, an independent television and radio producer, speaking to el Nuevo Herald. “The principal, the counselor, and two other people tried to prevent that action and the officer took the child anyway.”
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The clash happened on Thursday at the Coral Way K-8 Center in Miami. The first-grader was detained under the provisions of the Florida Mental Health Act (Baker Act), based on behavioral criteria that indicate that the person could pose a danger to themselves or their peers. The boy was subsequently hospitalized, without the consent of his family, at the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. He was discharged hours later.
“He does not have a mental disorder,” says Álvarez, who took a video of the arrest and transfer to the hospital.
In a statement, Miami-Dade Schools Police Chief Ian Moffett said that this type of incident is unusual, but “was warranted to prevent his erratic and violent behavior from bringing further harm to others or himself.”
The actions were in accordance with standard operating procedures, he said.
Álvarez does not believe it. Since her video was broadcast, “more than 30 mothers in Miami have written to me in solidarity because their children have done the same thing.”
Along with her husband, Rolando Fuentes, she met with lawyers to evaluate possible legal actions against the Miami-Dade School District and the police.
Public schools spokeswoman Jackie Calzadilla reiterated in another statement that the child “began behaving erratically and hit a teacher. Due to a great concern for the student and to ensure his safety and that of those around him, he was restricted according to the Baker Act and transported to the hospital to be evaluated.”
According to the police report cited by Channel 7-WSVN, the child was removed from the cafeteria for playing with his food. Then, he was taken to the hallway where his teacher was. That’s when he “attacked the teacher by repeatedly punching her on her back.”
Although the boy was restrained, he continued to throw punches and kicks until both fell on the floor, where he continued to fight, the report said.
The teacher is planning to press charges against the child.
Álvarez says that until she sees the evidence in a surveillance video, she does not believe that her child is capable of being strong enough to knock down the teacher. The family believes that the boy is being bullied and that is why behavior problems arise.
He was suspended for 10 days last November for another tantrum at school.
According to the mother’s testimony, it was the same police officer who stopped him both times. “They have created a psychological trauma, and instead of fixing the problem, you are building a problem,” Álvarez argues.
She says that her son always dreamed of being a policeman, but these days “he told me he does not want to be because the police are bad.”
Follow Daniel Shoer Roth on social media: @DanielShoerRoth.