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Mental Health Screening Prompts Fight for Parental Rights

  • Jim Brown Agape Press
  • 2005 27 Jun
Mental Health Screening Prompts Fight for Parental Rights

An Indiana high school is being threatened with a lawsuit for subjecting a 15-year-old student to a mental health screening examination without her parents' knowledge or consent.

The Rutherford Institute (TRI), a nonprofit civil liberties organization, has filed a tort claim notice on behalf of Michael and Teresa Rhoades, whose daughter Chelsea received a mental health exam at Penn High School in Mishawaka. Indiana state law requires that such a notice of intent to sue must be sent to any government agencies, including schools, before a personal injury action can be initiated against them.

Individuals who administered the adolescent screening program known as "Teen Screen" at Penn High School diagnosed Chelsea Rhoades with obsessive compulsive disorder and social anxiety disorder. But the family's attorney, TRI founder and president John Whitehead, says the school's mental health screening of the teenager violated her privacy and her mother and father's parental rights.

Whitehead contends, "Most school teachers and people administering these kinds of tests are not qualified psychiatrists or psychologists to begin with, so we don't even believe they should be involved. We feel right now it's headed for a lawsuit, and if so, it's the first test case on this issue to really see if the schools are going to be allowed to do this."

The "Teen Screen" program is the result of a push by President George W. Bush's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health to enact mandatory mental health screening of all public school teachers and students -- including preschoolers -- for "psychological problems." Teen Screen is reportedly used to identify teenagers who may be at risk for suicide or mental illness.

However, Whitehead is skeptical of the value of the program and feels it may even prove ultimately damaging. "I think it's just one of these kind of crazy bureaucratic things that come out of Washington, DC," he comments, "and I think it's going to do a lot of harm. I think it's going to make a lot of kids who are normal feel they aren't normal, and -- number two -- it's going to have a lot of kids on Ritalin that shouldn't be on Ritalin."

But apart from his contention that the screeners' evaluation and diagnosis were improper, the head of TRI maintains that one facet of the incident is central. "I think probably the most important issue here is parental rights," he says. "Should parents have the right and the authority to specifically, in writing, consent before their kids are tested psychologically? We say yes."

Whitehead points out that parents have some immediate options for combating what he calls "the increasing problem of government encroaching into the privacy of the family." It is critical, he asserts, for them to learn their rights as parents, and they should also contact their local school officials and demand to be notified immediately if the school plans to conduct mental health screening on their children.

"Finally," Whitehead adds, parents whose children have been subjected to unauthorized screening should "follow the Rhoades' example and fight back against this encroachment on parental rights."

TRI points out that some U.S. states have already moved to implement recommendations by the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health. For example, the Illinois legislature has passed a plan to screen the mental health of all pregnant women and all children up to 18 years of age. Under this plan, which also includes the use of antidepressant drugs, children and adults will be screened for so-called "mental illness" during their routine physical examinations.

The Rutherford Institute (

© 2005 Agape Press. Used with permission. All rights reserved.