ILNews

Trial allowed in school mental-health test case

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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A federal judge in South Bend is allowing a civil suit to proceed to trial in a case involving a once-controversial school mental-health screening where parents weren't informed.

U.S. District Judge James Moody for the Northern District of Indiana issued a 45-page ruling Tuesday in Teresa and Michael Rhoades v. Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation, et al., No. 3:05-CV-586. The case dates to a St. Joseph County student's suicide in 2003, which spawned the creation of a suicide-prevention pilot program the following year involving a questionnaire known as the TeenScreen examination. It was conducted by a private company at the district's request. The Rhoadeses sued the district in 2005 after their 15-year-old daughter, Chelsea, was asked to provide answers to a series of yes or no questions designed to identify anxiety, depression, substance abuse, or other potential problems. The program has since been discontinued.

In their suit, the Rhoadeses raised state and federal constitutional claims alleging that the school district didn't get parental consent before evaluating their daughter and that it was an unnecessary intrusion on their rights. Judge Moody dismissed a variety of issues in favor of the school corporation, but one issue he determined was trial-worthy was whether the examination was truly required or voluntary. The school had given parents an option to sign an "opt-out" form, but the Rhoadeses argued they never received it.

The judge also determined that the school corporation hadn't shown it did not breach its duty to exercise reasonable care and supervision of its students when allowing the private Madison Center to conduct the surveys and release results to students.

Magistrate Judge Christopher Nuechterlein has been instructed to conduct a pretrial conference as soon as possible and set a trial date.
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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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