NewsPolk County


Lakeland boarding school under investigation after teen who was denied medical treatment dies

girls academy
Posted at 8:40 PM, Jun 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-01 17:44:42-04

LAKELAND, Fla — A Lakeland boarding school for girls is under investigation after a 17-year-old student died while in its care.

Lakeland Girls Academy also known as Teen Challenge, is a faith-based residential boarding school that claims to turn around troubled girls. Naomi Wood, 17 arrived at the boarding school in February 2020 and just three months later she died.

Grace Coburn a former student, said this isn’t surprising.

“It’s expected of such a place who shows so much neglect towards all of their students. However, it does not make it any less saddening,” she said.

An autopsy report said Wood died as a result of a seizure disorder. ABC Action News obtained the child fatality report from the Florida Department of Children and Families. It said her death was due to inadequate supervision and medical neglect.


“When any of us complained of being ill, it was assumed that we were faking,” said Sela Freuler, a former student at Lakeland Girls Academy.

According to the report Wood had been complaining of stomach pain for a month. She was not taken to the doctor, instead staff members gave her Pepto-Bismol 20 times, soup and also prayed for her to get better.

“If a girl was sick she would not be taken to the doctor. It was very, very, very infrequent that girls would be taken to the doctor,” Coburn said.

Wood began vomiting on the evening of May 18, 2020. The next day she was found unresponsive in her room and later pronounced dead.

Also, in the report, the medical director for Florida's Child Protection Team noted that the academy uses the practice of shunning.

"Where you are not allowed to speak out loud at all to anyone. Anytime you want to talk, you have to write it down," said Coburn.

According to the DCF report, the school has added a medical coordinator position. ABC Action News reached out to school about the report and have yet to hear back.

Polk County Sheriff’s Office said this case is under review by the state attorney's office.

"I want there to be charges and I want to make sure it doesn’t happen in any similar facilities,” Freuler said.