Date of Award

Summer 8-11-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counseling and Psychological Services

First Advisor

R.W. Kamphaus, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

William Boozer, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Greg Brack, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Andrew Roach, Ph.D.

Fifth Advisor

Elizabeth Steed, Ph.D.


Disproportionality in special education is a long-standing issue. Some scholars have proposed group or universal screening for emotional and behavioral risk in schools as a method of addressing disproportionality. Considering previous case law, questions exist as to the legality of such screening programs in public schools. The purpose of this inquiry was to apply critical discourse analysis (CDA) to the federal case of Rhoades v. Penn-Harris (2008) to explore how court discourse reflects issues of social power and multidisciplinarity in the context of a school mental health screening program. CDA is usually interdisciplinary and focuses on explaining discourse structures related to social problems and may be applied from various theoretical frameworks and methodologies. This study used a discourse-historical approach to address the questions regarding the court’s discussion of relative power relationships, its use of argumentation strategies, and the knowledge base(s) accessed in formulating its arguments. Case study findings indicated that the court's use of various argumentation strategies in its discourse on student mental health screening presented varying potential duties and liabilities for entities and individuals involved in such programs. Additionally, although mental health screening in public schools requires an interdisciplinary approach, the court's discussion of the program litigated in Rhoades used a centrist, law-based perspective, suggesting that attempts to facilitate a pluralist or an integrationist approach to such cases may require efforts particular to legal, as opposed to clinical, practice. Recommendations for developing school mental health screening programs sensitive to issues addressed by Rhoades are provided.