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Back to February Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 277 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS FEBRUARY 2009

Court Sides with Family in 'TeenScreen' Case
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"TeenScreen" is a public school program that subjects teenagers to psychological evaluation, labeling, stigmatizing and ultimately mind-altering medications. TeenScreen is marketed as a "voluntary mental health check-up," ostensibly to identify teenagers at risk for suicide in order to channel them into profitable and potentially harmful medication. It is a marketing dream-come-true for the drug industry anxious to increase sales. Though supposedly voluntary, and despite assurances that parental rights would be respected, the psychological evaluation is given to students without meaningful notice and consent. Schools in 43 states have adopted TeenScreen or other, similar mental health screening programs.

Chelsea Rhoades, a 15-year-old sophomore at Penn High School in Indiana, was given the TeenScreen psychological assessment on Dec. 7, 2004. It did not seem to be voluntary to her. She stated that after being pulled out of class, she was told to sign a form quickly, and was never told that the test was voluntary.

When Chelsea had completed the screening, she was pulled aside and told she had "Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for cleaning and social anxiety disorder," and that she should seek treatment from a specific group. She was thereby stigmatized as having been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. Apparently, these diagnoses followed from Chelsea's answers on the test stating that she liked to clean and didn't like to "party."

Chelsea Rhoades and her parents, Teresa and Michael Allen Rhoades, filed suit against the school explaining that their rights under Indiana (and constitutional) law were violated when the school gave the test without obtaining their consent. The Rhoades family sought damages due to the defendants' not obtaining affirmative consent before testing, and for their diagnosing Chelsea without due care.

The public school defendants moved for summary judgment, expecting to win as they usually do. The defendants insisted that "TeenScreen" was optional and confidential, and that there was no compulsion or harm.

The so-called consent was merely a form printed in the November issue of the school's newsletter, Kingsman Notes. In a scenario known as "passive" consent, the school presumes consent unless parents happen to notice and fill out this form and return it to the school. The school also has the child sign a consent form before the test, stating that the teen screen was voluntary. But that can hardly be considered meaningful.

To the school's amazement, the court rejected its motion and held in favor of parental rights in Rhoades v. Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp. The court was impressed by the absence of any evidence that any students were able to decline taking the test. The court also found it significant that the form signed by the students stated, "If I have any further questions about this project, I may call NAME, NUMBER OF PROJECT COORDINATOR." The name and number of a project coordinator had not been filled in, and apparently no one had read the form closely enough to realize this. "Therefore, it is a further indication that the students simply signed the form because they were told to do so, and did not understand that they had a choice," the court held.

The court expressly rejected the Ninth Circuit's "no-rights-beyond-the-threshold-of-the-school-door" approach taken in Fields v. Palmdale School District. Instead, the court recognized that a Third Circuit decision, which quoted Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund's amicus brief, declared that Fields' rejection of parental rights is "not of comparable gravity to [the parental rights] protected under existing Supreme Court precedent." (C.N. v. Ridgewood Board of Education, 2005)

This case proceeds to trial if the school does not offer an attractive settlement to the family.


 
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