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Indiana family sues high school over non-consensual adolescent mental health screening


6/10/2005 1:11:00 PM by - Rhonda Robinson


SPRINGFIELD-- An Indiana family may become the first test case as to the constitutionality of controversial legislation, passed in Illinois, mandating mental health screening for all school-aged children.


While Indiana has not yet passed comprehensive legislation on the order of Illinois, they have instituted functional mental health screening programs in certain areas.


At the center of this controversy is program called TeenScreen designed by Columbia University. The TeenScreen Program is an adolescent mental health and suicide-screening program recommended by President Bush's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health. The program made its debut last fall in Illinois at Brimfield High School in the Peoria area.


The Rutherford Institute, a conservative civil liberties organization, has filed a tort claim notice (which is required by Indiana law, as notice of intent to file lawsuit against a government subdivision) against Penn High School and administrators who conducted the TeenScreen program, on behalf of the Michael and Teresa Rhoades, whose 15-year old daughter, a student of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Indiana, was subjected to the TeenScreen survey in her homeroom class.


The Rhoadeses became aware of the screening only when their daughter came home and asked what was the definition of obsessive-compulsive disorder and social anxiety disorder. She explained that was the diagnosis she had been given at school after the survey.


Personnel of the Madison Center for Children, a division of the community mental health center in St. Joseph County, Indiana, administered the TeenScreen mental health examination.


Neither the school nor the center had obtained the Rhoades' permission to conduct the survey on their daughter. Instead they obtained voluntary consent using an assent form, by which the minor herself gave permission to be screened.


Status of mental health screening in Illinois


During the recently passed legislative session, Illinois passed HR0654, a house resolution recommending everyone should be screened once during childhood for mental illness and suicide risk. The resolution also promoted the implementation of the controversial mental health-screening program TeenScreen.


Although the resolution states that TeenScreen has been "proven" successful, TeenScreen co-director Rob Caruano does not make that claim, Caruano told the Indiana's South Bend Tribune, "Teen suicides, while tragic, are so rare that the study would have to be impossibly huge to show a meaningful difference in mortality between screened and unscreened'd have to be screening almost the whole country to reach statistical significance."


The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) agrees with Caruano and found "no evidence that screening for suicide risk reduces suicide attempts or mortality."


Based on TeenScreen statistics in 2004, 5,862 children have been screened without written parental consent across the country.


While the 10-day comment period concerning the implantation of Children's Mental Health (CMH) Plan, began Tuesday of this week, parents' growing concern are that their children will be screened without their consent and unduly labeled.


In a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, State Sen. Chris Lauzen (R-Aurora) said, "When I listened to constituents on this issue, I heard real fear in their voices . . . that their kids would be labeled; that other classmates might not want to play with them."


While the current (CMH) Plan, due on Governor Blagojevich's desk June 30th, states screening is voluntary and requires parental consent.


However, there is controversy even among school school administrators as to the definition of parental consent and whether passive or active consent is appropriate. Passive consent means that the child would be screened unless the parent objects. In other words, it is incumbent upon the parent to object rather than the responsibility of the school to seek permission.


In an email obtained by the between Terry Smith, an administrator at Flagler Palm Coast High School in Florida, and Jim McDonough, Director of the Florida Office of Drug Control and TeenScreen advisor, Smith states that after a meeting with the county school district, and a conference call to Columbia TeenScreen, the school is interested in screening as many as possible beginning in the 9th grade. "The passive acceptance style was mostly discussed to increase the numbers for 50% for Consent to near 95% for Passive."


Despite the efforts of family groups including Eagle Forum, Illinois Family Institute, Concerned Women of America and Family Taxpayers Network, and others to demand that written parental consent be included in the law, passive consent currently complies with Illinois law.


10 states have introduced or passed legislation that prohibits mental health screening of children in schools.





Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved