Two local school districts have joined a federal class-action lawsuit against social media companies. A third local district may also join the suit.
Riverside Brookfield High School District 208 and the Riverside Elementary School District 96 have joined 27 other school districts in Illinois and about 650 nationally that claim social media companies have harmed school districts by negatively impacting students.
“We allege that Meta, TikTok, Snap, YouTube, and other social media companies have engaged in reckless and negligent misconduct that has caused a mental health crisis among our youth,” said James P. Frantz of the San Diego law firm, Frantz Law Group in an April news release. “Social media companies are and have been well aware of the harm they cause. It must stop, and we will fight to hold these social media companies accountable for choosing profit over the mental health and safety of children and their families.” Frantz represents plaintiffs in the suit across the country.
The Komarek Board of Education plans to discuss whether to join the lawsuit at its September meeting. RBHS and District 96 both use the Chicago law firm, Franczek, which alerted the districts to the lawsuit and is acting as a local co-counsel in the case. The social media lawsuit, like the lawsuit against Juul, is a contingency-fee lawsuit, which means that the plaintiffs don’t have to pay any legal fees to join the lawsuit. Instead, the plaintiffs’ attorneys are paid a percentage of money they recover from the defendants. The only cost to the school districts who join the suit is the cost of producing requested documents, a cost expected to be minor.
“We’ve been assured it should similar to what we had to produce for like the vape lawsuit,” said Deanna Zalas, the president of the RBHS Board of Education.
At the Aug. 16 District 96 school board meeting, board Vice-President Joel Marhoul read a statement from president Wesley Muirheid, who was absent from the meeting.
“The proliferation of, widespread access to and use of social media among students has created a variety of concerns,” Marhoul said. “These concerns are related to both direct and indirect impacts to the school district. We continue to see, hear, and feel a wide range of both positive and negative impacts social media has on our students. Over the past few years there has been a meaningful increase in negative behaviors that can be tied directly to social media. The district must divert resources away from our core mission of educating students and toward mitigating and managing conflict and other negative behaviors during instructional hours.”
The statement also said that District 96’s primary objective in joining the lawsuit was not to recover monetary damages, but change the behavior of social media companies by preventing young people from accessing age inappropriate content, strengthening the age verification process to open an account, strengthening parental controls, improving processes for schools to report and remove inappropriate content and improving the ability of law enforcement agencies to gain faster access to content related to physical threats of violence.
Board member Salina Claps cast the only vote against joining the lawsuit. Claps, who works for an investment firm that manages a mutual fund and hedge fund partnerships, did not say before or after the vote why she voted against joining the lawsuit.
“I think it’s important for our board to speak with a collective voice,” Claps told the Landmark.
Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski said he would discuss the lawsuit with his school board of education in September but Kuzniewski said that he didn’t think it would be worthwhile to join the lawsuit because of the costs the district would incur in producing documents.
LaGrange School District 102 school board President Ed Campbell said that he hadn’t heard of the lawsuit until contacted by a reporter but that the district would look into it. Lyons Township High School has not joined the lawsuit.