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Continued: Mentally troubled students overwhelm schools

  • Article by: JEFFREY MEITRODT , Star Tribune
  • Last update: July 21, 2013 - 7:26 AM

“It begs the question: If they are too aggressive for a mental health treatment environment, why is a school environment the best place?” Hayes asked in an e-mail to the Star Tribune. “Our state has allowed a system to develop, due to a lack of planning at the policy level, for schools to be the default placement for these seriously mentally ill students — without any planning, preparation, collaboration or resources to do so successfully.”


Mr. Angry resurfaces

Worried the school was failing Gianni, Shameka asked the district to move him. At his new school, administrators allowed him back into a classroom with six other disabled students for the 2012-13 school year, despite concerns about his mental health problems. Gianni’s therapeutic sessions were reduced to one 30-minute session weekly with a social worker.

Workers at the Little Canada school no longer searched his pockets and backpack, Shameka said.

Initially, at least, Gianni stayed out of trouble. Even when a classmate insulted him with a racial epithet, he did not become violent, records show. A January report shows that Gianni was making adequate progress on his academic and mental health goals.

Then, on April 16, Mr. Angry spoke up again, demanding that Gianni bring the lighter to school. Gianni admitted he used it to set fire to the bulletin board. The school was evacuated, frightening dozens of disabled kids.

“If they had just checked my pocket, all of this wouldn’t have happened,” he said in an interview with the Star Tribune.

School officials agreed with police that Gianni should be arrested because of the “severe” nature of the incident, police records show.

Gianni spent the next five weeks in juvenile detention. His barren cell had a concrete bed and steel toilet.

Meg Kane, Gianni’s lawyer, tried to move him into a residential treatment center, but nobody had any vacancies and Anoka County social workers refused to help, citing “liability issues,” she said. Anoka County officials declined to comment.

Gianni was denied video games and other items that calm him. His mother could visit only twice a week. He said he was bullied constantly.

“It was pretty scary,” he said. “I felt like I was in there for 50 years.”

Shameka said Ramsey County officials told her Gianni had three psychotic episodes and threatened suicide after an incident on the basketball court. She said her son, who rarely smiles or shows emotion, cried on his 15th birthday.

Gianni’s teachers and therapists wrote letters to the judge pleading for Gianni to be sent to a treatment facility or released to his mother. On May 23, after once again deciding that Gianni was mentally incompetent to face criminal charges, a judge let him go.

“That’s unacceptable,” DHS’s Johnson said of Gianni’s ordeal.. “We shouldn’t have kids going into the juvenile justice system who don’t belong there.”


Sent to Utah for help

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  • Gianni, who has a history of psychosis, often slips into a fantasy world, talking to himself and battling imaginary enemies.

  • Three weeks after Gianni set the fire at school, Shameka told her mother that he would have to stay in juvenile detention until a judge determined whether he was mentally competent to face arson charges.

  • While incarcerated, Gianni wrote this letter to a county prosecutor, saying “i’m a really good kid” who sometimes does things that are “extreamly wrong.” He asked to go home with his mother because “I am always safe at home.”

  • Gianni’s relatives welcomed him home May 23 after he spent 37 days in juvenile detention.

  • More than three weeks after his 15th birthday, Gianni was finally able to have fun with a family party at Water Park of America.

  • Gianni retreated to his bedroom to escape the noisy party held the night he was released from jail.

  • Alone in his back yard, Gianni battled imaginary foes while relatives inside the house celebrated his homecoming.

  • After a judge kept Gianni in jail, Shameka Griffin arrived home about the time her son usually got off the school van.

  • Shameka walked with Gianni into the Anoka County courthouse for a hearing on her son’s mental competence.

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