Why Was a 6-Year-Old with a Disability Forced Out of School By Police?

Photo by Kyo Azuma on Unsplash.

School is supposed to be a safe place for our kids. But if you’re a child with a disability, it can be anything but. And one Jacksonville mom learned that lesson the hard way. Marina Falk claimed that her 6-year-old daughter, who has ADHD and a mood disorder, was handcuffed by police and escorted to a behavioral health center after the administrators at her school decided to Baker Act her. Marina Falk admitted that her daughter did have a meltdown. But what school officials did next, she says, is inexcusable.

“She had the meltdown at school — she was pushing over chairs, screaming, yelling, and running away from the teacher,” Falk told the Florida Times-Union. “The police escorted her in handcuffs and refused to let her come home with me.”

Duval County Public Schools and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office deny that Falk’s daughter was handcuffed; body cam footage later showed Falk’s daughter was escorted from the school without being handcuffed. They do admit Baker Acting her though. And when Falk went to see her daughter, she said that she was “drugged up” and wearing a diaper, despite the fact that she’s fully potty trained.

“They claim their staff is trained to handle children with mental disabilities,” Falk said. “My daughter was diagnosed with a mental disability. She is not like other kids. She looks normal, but she is not normal … I want my daughter to have an education just like everyone else. I’m hurting so bad right now.”

As sad as it is, Falk’s experience is far from rare. This kind of discrimination against children with disabilities is endemic across the country.

In Philadelphia, a 6-year-old girl with Down syndrome had the police called on her because she made a finger-gun at her teacher. Both her teacher and the principal said they knew she didn’t mean it as a threat, but they called the police anyway. And then there are the isolation rooms in use at countless schools in numerous states, but most notably in Illinois. There, children with disabilities are physically restrained, sometimes forced to lay facedown on the floor, in padded rooms — usually the size of a closet or toilet stall — by themselves, while staff ignores their screams and pleas to be let out. And children with disabilities are much more likely to face discipline, including suspension, than their neurotypical peers are. The discipline gap is even wider for disabled children of color. This kind of discrimination isn’t just wrong; it’s illegal, under the Americans with Disabilities Act. And yet it persists, largely unnoticed outside of the disability community.

Everyone has the right to an education. And children with disabilities deserve to have educators who are trained on their unique and individual needs. Instead, they are too often met with seclusion, discrimination, segregation, physical restraints, and isolation. It’s immoral, unethical, illegal, and plain wrong. A disability does not mean someone deserves to be treated as less than. Children, all children, deserve better than this.

Cassy Fiano-Chesser
Cassy Fiano-Chesser is a Jacksonville native and mom to six kids. Her husband is a Marine Corps veteran and Purple Heart recipient. She works from home as a blogger and a freelance writer, and they currently live in the Argyle area of Jacksonville. Benjamin is their oldest, born in 2011, and he loves being a big brother. Wyatt was born in 2012, and he has Down syndrome. Ivy came next, in 2013, followed by Clara, born in 2015, who is a diva-with-a-capital-D. Rounding out the brood is Felicity, born in 2017, and Lilly, born in 2007. They love discovering things to do on the First Coast and going on family adventures, as well as cheering on the Jumbo Shrimp and the Icemen.


  1. This is an article acknowledging an issue without diving deeper into WHY school employees respond in such inappropriate ways. I’d encourage you to republish acknowledging the overall systemic issue with specific call to actions at the bottom. Our education system is broken and parents CAN do things about it.

  2. Very true. The policy where I live seems to be to clear the other students out of the room while a child has a meltdown, so that the teacher doesn’t have to touch or interact with the upset child. They nearly always will calm down once they get a minute alone. But some people would rather see a disabled child cuffed than let the class be interrupted for ten minutes. It’s very sad.

  3. No, parents really cannot do anything unless they have the money to hire an attorney to intimidate the school and administrators into providing FAPE or IDEA services. Try getting support for a neurodiverse kid in a private school-not happening if their needs are intense. Want to send them to a special school? Better be able to poney up $20-23K per year. Can’t afford that? Better be able to pay $65 p/h for private tutors. Can’t do that either? Hope they can diagnose and maybe treat your kid in prison. THAT is the reality of many parents across the country today. I should know-I’m one of them.

  4. I agree with all of these comments in some way. I agree parents can take action- action to fight for better pay and more professional development for teachers. Keep the teachers highly trained and qualified. Give these teachers the resources to serve all children and disabilities. Students with disabilities feel alienated enough. Let’s keep them in their least restrictive environment and show them that all children are loved!! As a mom, I know the importance of being an advocate for your kid. Parents should be able to leave their kids with teachers that they trust will do what is best for their child. It is very important to have a great team in place for all children. Great parent teacher communication shows that both parties are working together to make that child reach his or her greatest potential. Sending love to all teachers and advocating moms out there! Teamwork makes the dream work!


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