NewsPolk County


Lakeland Girls Academy closes following teen's death; parents plan to sue

Posted at 7:22 PM, Mar 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-22 19:30:56-04

LAKELAND, Fla. — Lakeland Girls Academy has closed its doors and for the father of a 17-year-old who died while in the school's care, it’s long overdue.

“To send somebody there and to find out later that she was not physically taken care of. It’s beyond what we should have to endure,” said Al Wood, the father of Naomi Wood.

Al’s daughter Naomi, 17, died on May 19, 2020, just three months after entering the Lakeland boarding school that claims to turn around troubled girls.

“She’d come up and put her hand on my hand and say ‘dad, dad.’ She had this really sweet smile, bubbly personality that we miss,” Al said.

Naomi Wood

Naomi was found unconscious in her room.

“She’d be alive if she was brought to the hospital even hours or maybe minutes before she was found unresponsive,” said Nehemiah Wood, the brother of Naomi.

Nehemiah said it wasn’t until the release of a Florida Department of Children and Families report, over a year later, did his family learn the details surrounding her death.

“It was the first time we were made aware of the fact that she was suffering from chronic pain for over a month. Had been vomiting for at least 36 hours,” Nehemiah said.

According to the report, Wood was never taken to the doctor, instead staff members gave her Pepto-Bismol 20 times. Former students ABC Action News spoke with last year said this was common practice.

“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,” said Grace Coburn, a former student at Lakeland Girls Academy.

DCF said her death was due to inadequate supervision and medical neglect.

An autopsy report stated Naomi died from a seizure disorder, and following an investigation from Polk County Sheriff’s Office no one was charged.

A representative from Teen Challenge confirmed the school closed on March 4 but declined to comment further. The school did add a medical coordinator position and updated its medical policy.

Naomi’s father said he’s filing a lawsuit for negligence this week.

“Teen challenge needs to look at their programs and what they’re doing and we want that to be made known, so this doesn’t happen to another child,” Al said.