Teen’s death at Lakeland boarding school under investigation, sparks policy change

Polk County

LAKELAND Fla. (WFLA) — The death of a 17-year-old girl attending a Lakeland boarding school is under review by the state’s attorney’s office, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff’s office case “is still open,” according to a public information officer.

Naomi Wood, 17, of Vermont, was found unresponsive at Lakeland Girls Academy, a faith-based residential boarding school that follows the Teen Challenge program, in May 2020 and was pronounced dead later that night, the child fatality report from the Florida Department of Children and Families reads.

In April 2020, she requested to see a doctor about chronic stomach pains.

According to the report, rather than contacting a doctor, staff at the academy gave her Pepto Bismol 20 times as the symptoms persisted.

“Staff members made the child get up for meals and fed her soup, as that is their protocol when children
are sick. They also prayed for her to get better. Facility staff did not seek any medical
attention for the child until she was found in her room unresponsive,” the report reads.

The report included verified findings of “inadequate supervision and medical neglect” at the academy.

“The facility did not have appropriate protocols in place to address medical emergencies and/or regular medical care with physicians,” the report reads.

Leadership at Lakeland Girls Academy did not respond to 8 On Your Side’s phone calls or emails, and nobody answered the door at the facility on Tuesday.

According to the report, Lakeland Girls Academy created a “medical coordinator” position in the wake of Wood’s death.

As of the April 2021 report, the position was filled by the director’s wife until somebody else could be hired.

A child will now be taken to urgent care or ER if symptoms persist for three days, and parents will be immediately notified of medical issues.

Wood’s family posted on their business website that Wood had an “infectious smile” and loved the beach and maple cotton candy.

The family wrote Wood attended the school for “young women who need a place where they can slow down, access therapy to help with mindsets and loss. They also develop new habits that build confidence in their abilities to make healthier choices for themselves.”

The family thanked the staff and added about her death, “it’s been the hardest thing for our family to go through and still seems impossible.”

Former resident Grace Coburn of the program told 8 On Your Side, she thinks Wood’s death could have been prevented.

“Medical assistance is not something that’s easy to get there,” Coburn said. “Seeing doctors is not something that’s frequent there.”

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