At what point do a child's school tantrums require a mental health evaluation?

I was reading this storyand at first was sympathized with the parents re the inappropriate recommendation and stigmatizing of the child, but on further consideration how do I know what’s appropriate?

Did I see the tantrum? Was the kid violent out of control nuts? Are normal tantrums by definition out of control nuts or not? Where’s the break point?

Would you be angry if an authority figure decided as an on site decision to refer your little tantrum thrower to mental health services at the local mental hospital because they were bat shit out of control in a school setting?

I’m sure I would be angry if I got a call that my hypothetical child had been referred to mental health services, but I would hope that I would be on top of things so my 7-year-old wouldn’t be having tantrums at school. While I can understand that the school’s action might have seemed heavy-handed to the parents, the boy’s actions certainly sound as though they went beyond what a teacher would normally encounter.

This was not the first time this 7 year old threw a tantrum; the mother “said she could have defused the situation.”

Isn’t seven a tad old for a tantrum? Shouldn’t a parent be considering disciplining rather than defusing? Is calling a lawyer the most effective response to your child tearing up a class room?

I am not a big fan of police abusing their power through vaguely worded laws, but if having the child arrested, removing him from the building, or just coming up along side his head are all (quite rightly) out of bounds, what should the school do?

Allow the staff and other students to be subjected to the violence while waiting for Mom to defuse the situation, and hope it doesn’t happen again? Or try to get him some help, even if just by demonstrating that unpleasant actions can have unpleasant consequences?

A priori, I have to believe that there are a certain number of kids who are out of control in school. IMO parents are all about protecting their precious snowflakes and that’s fine, to a point. But I’ve known kids who were waaaay out of line.

I’m not a huge fan of corporal punishment but sometimes when they’re little, a quick swat might get their attention. That of course is not an option in many schools.

Logically then, if a kid is out of control, his rights start to infringe on the rights of others. It disrupts the learning environment, possibly places other kids in danger (say he’s punching other kids), and so on. Well of course you’re going to get him out of there.

And if that’s the case, and if it has happened repeatedly without successful intervention by the parents, then I say a mental health eval is appropriate. I mean, parents could seek help after the first incident and maybe the kid needs meds or counseling or whatever…but if they aren’t going to do that, then the school has to maintain a learning environment so they do what they have to do.

All that said, reading the article does nothing to change my mind. IMO those parents should be ashamed of their inadequate parenting of the child, not suing. If they’re really half-assed parents, it may backfire: the details of their home life will come out in trial and CPS et al could start sniffing around.

As a parent of a 7-year-old with severe disabilities, I posit that that child needs some evaluation, or help. Could be a mental problem, could be a neurological problem, but a typical 7-year-old doesn’t do that. Hence, my son sees a pediatric neurologist and has therapy, so that he can function somewhat normally in school.

If the parents don’t want to bother finding out why their kid is having inappropriate tantrums, somebody has to step in before he hurts someone or himself.

My daughter shared a kindergarten class with a girl who they cleared the room for three times. At some point, not only is he potentially a danger to himself or others, but the purpose of the classroom isn’t to sit out in the hall while one of your classmate’s has his mother called in order to calm him down.

The need for a mental health eval is relevant here, but the main issue is different: whether it was appropriate for the police to intervene to force an evaluation. According to the article, the law cited to justify this action requires liklihood of serious injury; what the police and school officials stated - that he stepped on a teacher’s foot - falls laughably short of what should have been necessary.

It would have been much more appropriate for the school to call the parents and say: “Please take Johnny home; due to his tantrums we have made an appointment for his evaluation, which is required before he can be back in his classroom.”

If the linked story is accurate, the parents could have a valid lawsuit on the grounds that there was no basis in law for the actions taken.

A child often tantrums without notice. One that requires having the room cleared three times already might start having a tantrum tomorrow and throw a block or a chair at another kid’s head. In a room of five year olds, the risk of serious injury is there, perhaps not at this moment in time.

I think the risk of lawsuit is high in any case, but this at least prevents the lawsuit being over an innocent child getting hurt in this kid’s tantrum.

Look at it from a different perspective - as the parent of one of the classmates. Let’s say your kid was one of the boy’s classmates, and was present in the room as the boy tore up the room, and battered the teacher and administrator resulting in the other students being evacuated. Let’s say this is not the first outburst this boy has had, disrupting your child’s class. Wouldn’t you want some action taken to make sure your child’s classroom was safe? Wouldn’t you want this boy evaluated by a professional to make sure he is OK to return to class?

Maybe this boy does have a serious problem that needs evaluation and treatment, and his parents are either too oblivious or ignorant to recognize it, or deny the existence of mental illness, or perhaps they’re part of the problem. Maybe they’re just dumb rednecks with no health insurance. Who knows. But there is the liability issue here too. If the boy ends up stabbing a kid on the playground with a pencil, or bringing a gun to school, people would be shouting and screaming, wondering why didn’t anyone do anything about this before?! Just look at the reaction to the Virginia Tech killer… that guy showed many signs of mental illness over the years and never got the treatment he needed, and after the murders everyone was up in arms - why was this ignored, why didn’t they do something?!? That would leave the school system and the “authorities” open to lawsuits.

Anyway, I think the kid’s behavior is a huge red flag that something is wrong and that he needs treatment. If the parents for whatever reason have not gotten him help, then it’s within the authorities’ power (and duty) to help him. He probably is not suited to being in a normal classroom and I would not want this boy in my child’s classroom, that is for sure.

There was an “and” statement after that part:

So it wasn’t just stepping on someone’s foot (which if done intentionally and maliciously - stomping rather than accidentally stepping - can really hurt), it was intentionally messing up the room and attacking another adult as well. It’s just a matter of determining what actually happened - did he turn into a veritable Tasmanian Devil and rip stuff off walls and desks, while beating up anyone in range, or did he throw something on the floor, trip over a teacher’s foot, and flail an ineffectual hand at the administrator when they tried to drag him off to the principal’s office?

I agree with the others who say that if there’s any merit to this case, the school would be the target of many more outraged lawsuits if they let an apparent history of severe tantrums pass and the kid’s next target would be another kid.

So you believe a law that requires “liklihood of serious injury” should be interpreted to mean “some risk of serious injury, possibly at some indefinite time in the future.” Does not that sort of broad and vague interpretation seem open to abuse?

The article made no mention of any risk to another child.

The article said “stepping” and did not say it was done intentionally and maliciously. It’s far-fetched that a 7-year-old is likely to cause serious injury by stepping on, or “battering” an adult.

Correct - it would be extremely irresponsible to ignore this incident. The question is whether the correct response involves having the kid hauled off by police to spend the night in a hospital separated from his parents.

I’d guess that many people would feel that the obvious way to handle this would be to remove the kid from the classroom and call his parents. Why would that have been wrong?

I think the school acted inappropriately–as someone upthread said, they should have suspended him until he was evaluated, but not forced the evaluation.

However, “tearing up the room” implies throwing things. If he was throwing those kid-size chairs or other heavy things, then we do have “liklihood of serious injury”–you ought not have to wait until some other kid needs stitches to take action.

You can’t remove a seven-year old in a full blown tantrum without seriously risking injuring him (not to mention yourself)–it’s like moving a 50 pound cat that is fighting you all the way. A kid that size in a ffull blown tantrum is entirely illogical: there is no instinct for self-preservation and so they will push away from you into doors or table edges, or start hitting themselves (or you), or launch themselves straight inot the air. All you can do is evacuate the room and wait for him to calm down. If this is happened repeatedly, I can see how the school might feel like they are running out of options.

I have a related question: let’s say a teacher had a student who was seriously showing signs of some life-threatening physical disease the parent seemed to be ignoring–like the child bruised at the lightest touch, bled easily and profusely, and was exhausted all the time, or the child was periodically turning faintly blue and short of breath and had to lie down, or the child had a fever and horrific abdominal pain. If the parent was dismissing symptoms like that (oh, he’s just whining, make him walk it off), ought the school compel a medical exam?

Could also describe actions like tearing stuff off a bulletin board, dumping papers on the floor, etc.

Nor can the police. Whoever does this will need to understand kids and apply the right mixture of patience and force.

Indeed - it makes a lot of sense that they would want to see some sort of professional evaluation of this unacceptable behavior.

I’d say yes, they certainly should. Hopefully without the need for police involvement.

So in those cases, calling an ambulance to take the kid to the hospital against the parent’s wishes would be ok with you, provided the parents had been advised to take them and had declined?

I agree with Xema that it’s the parents’ role to get the kid evaluated, not the school’s. But I also think that it definitely sounds like the evaluation was warranted in this case…if I ran the school, I would make a STRONG recommendation that the kid see a shrink, to the point of requiring it before the child would be allowed to return. My daughter is in a preschool class with 3 and 4 year-olds, and it’s not typical for anyone in her class to have a tantrum as described, much less a 7-year-old.

I don’t see why an ambulance would be needed for the things you mention (except possibly “horrific abdominal pain”). But it would be appropriate for school officials to conclude that a kid was exhibiting symptoms of a potentially serious condition requiring medical attention.

Parents should certainly be informed, but they do not necessarily get the final say on whether the matter is looked into. During school hours, school personnel act in loco parentis and should not accept the judgment of someone (even a parent) not present as inherently superior to their own.

I agree with the school. If my 7 year old did that I’d be more than happy to have him properly evaluated. FTR my kids are 9 and 11, so not so far off. I’ve removed them from public places for much, much, much less than this.

Because an emergency is the only way a school is allowed to treat a student’s health–they can’t make a doctor’s appointment for the child and take them to it. No doctor can legally treat a minor in a non-emergency situation without the parent’s consent. There’s nothing the cops can do, as far as I know. You’d have to report the situation to CPS, I think, who could then investigate and remove the child and then, and only then, take them to the doctor. So the reason the school presented this as an emergency may well be because it’s only in an emergency that they can act at all.

I don’t even know if the school can say “you can’t come back until you’ve been evaluated”. Schools have pretty strict codes of conduct, and the amount of time a student can be suspended is usually explicitly set out–and it isn’t more than a day or two for first graders.

I do know that children with significant learning disabilities cannot be tested without consent from a parent, and we’ve had a few come in that were clearly disabled–probably mentally retarded–but had never been tested because their parents refused to allow it. In one particular case the girl just flunked all her classes until she eventually dropped out. Sweet little girl, but she couldn’t read, and could only “write” by copying text. Everyone tried to get in contact with her mom, but the few who did reported that mom had some of the same problems herself and was emphatic that there was to be no testing. Girl was healthy and well-cared for otherwise. It was really heartbreaking.