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Trial allowed in school mental-health test case

January 1, 2008
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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