Friday, August 08, 2008

TeenScreen Lawsuit Advances - Federal Court Affirms Family's Right to Sue School for Subjecting Teen to Mental Health Test

For Immediate Release: August 6, 2008

Teen Screen Lawsuit Advances: Federal Court Affirms Family's Right to
Sue School for Subjecting Teen to Mental Health Test Without Parental
Consent

SOUTH BEND, Ind.-A federal court has given the green light to a civil
rights lawsuit filed by Rutherford Institute attorneys in defense of a
15-year-old Indiana student who was subjected by school officials to a
controversial mental health examination without the knowledge or consent
of her parents. In ruling that the lawsuit filed on behalf of Chelsea
Rhoades and her parents, Teresa and Michael, may proceed to trial, the
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana upheld the
claims that the local school district deprived the Rhoades family of
their federal constitutional rights to family integrity and privacy when
it subjected Chelsea to the "TeenScreen" examination. A copy of the
lawsuit is available at
http://www.rutherford.org/PDF/Filed_Complaint.pdf.

"This ruling rightly recognizes that parents have an
intrinsic right to control their children's education, as well as
safeguard their mental and physical well-being," stated John W.
Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute.

On December 7, 2004, Chelsea Rhoades, a student at Penn High
School in Mishawaka, Ind., was subjected to a mental health examination
known as "TeenScreen" by personnel with the Madison Center for Children,
a local mental health center. The mental health exam consisted of
questions seeking only a "yes" or "no" answer, with no opportunity to
explain or offer an alternative response. Only students with an opt-out
slip were excused from taking the exam. All other students were divided
into groups of 10-15, herded into classrooms and placed in front of
computers. After completing the examination and being escorted into a
private hallway by an employee of Madison Center, Chelsea was informed
that, based on her responses that she liked to clean and didn't like to
party very much, she suffered from at least two mental health problems,
obsessive compulsive disorder and social anxiety disorder. Chelsea was
also told that if her condition worsened, her mother should take her to
the Madison Center for treatment. According to Chelsea, a majority of
the students who were subjected to the TeenScreen exam were also told
they were suffering from some sort of mental or social "disorder."
Chelsea's parents were not informed about the mental health screening
exam until after it had taken place, when Chelsea spoke to them about
her so-called diagnosis.
In September 2005, Rutherford Institute attorneys filed suit in federal
district court on behalf of the Rhoades family, charging that school
officials violated Chelsea's constitutional right to be free from
unnecessary intrusions by the state. In rejecting the school district's
attempt to have the case dismissed, the court also ruled that the school
is liable for the false diagnosis of mental illness that was given to
Chelsea.

Mental health screening exams like TeenScreen have
increasingly been adopted by schools in 43 states, reportedly as part of
an effort to identify students with mental health problems or at- risk
tendencies for suicide that cannot be seen outwardly. However, while
federal and state law generally requires that parents grant written
consent in order for their children to take mental health screening
exams, some schools had relied on "passive consent" forms in order to
administer the exams. Passive consent requires parents to return a form
only if they do not want their child to participate in the screening.
However, according to the federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment,
as well as Indiana state law, schools are required to obtain "written
parental consent" before engaging in such programs as mental health
screening.

Founded in 1982 by constitutional attorney and author John
W. Whitehead, The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit
civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and
human rights.

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