Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Mental health provider that evaluated Nikolas Cruz picked to service charter schools

Florida's largest charter school membership organization announced Wednesday that it is partnering with Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz's former mental health care provider to render services to schools.

Broward County's Henderson Behavioral Health will provide mental health assessments, diagnoses, interventions, treatment and recovery services, free of charge, to students in need at member schools of the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools, according to a news release. Training will also be offered to school staff for a $25 fee.

Charter schools are privately run but funded using taxpayer dollars. Three out of every four operating charter schools in Florida — about 500 schools — belong to the consortium. For schools outside of Broward, Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast, where Henderson currently operates, Henderson will identify and refer community-based mental health services.

The consortium's news release mentions that additional mental health funding and mandatory mental health plans for schools came as a result of legislation passed after "murders and injuries of students" at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland on Feb. 14.

Henderson has been criticized for its handling of Cruz, who was evaluated at least three times in September and October of 2016 by members of a Henderson crisis team. After a suicide assessment was conducted, Henderson's team determined committing Cruz under the Baker Act was not warranted.

Nikolas, Cruz, 19, faces 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for the Feb. 14 Parkland school shooting. [Photo from MSNBC]

Had Cruz been involuntarily committed for psychiatric treatment, he may have been prevented from obtaining weapons to carry out the deadliest school shooting in Florida's history.

The private, not-for-profit healthcare provider was served with a wrongful death lawsuit by Andrew Pollack, the father of Meadow Pollack, who was among those killed that day.

The Miami Herald has reached out to the consortium and Henderson Behavioral Health for comment.

The consortium's website lists several Miami charter school officials as members of its board of directors. Katrina Wilson-Davis, who helped launch Florida's first charter school in Liberty City, serves as vice president. Fernando Zulueta, president of the Miami-based charter school management company Academica, is listed as treasurer.

Miami Herald staff writer Carol Marbin Miller contributed to this report. Contact Colleen Wright at 305-376-3003 and @Colleen_Wright.

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