Johnson County school district joins class action lawsuit against social media companies

Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 4:15 PM CDT
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GARDNER, Kan. (KCTV) - Members of the Gardner Edgerton School Board voted to join a class action lawsuit against popular social media companies.

The school board made the decision after talking about options during its regular meeting last week.

“We feel like we’re swimming up river. We need some help. That’s what this lawsuit is about,” Dr. Brian Huff, Gardner Edgerton Superintendent said.

It’s the same lawsuit the Shawnee Mission School District joined earlier this year according to an attorney for the school district. The lawsuit claims the social media companies are targeting children and teenagers, which is detrimental to their health and wellbeing.

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“Targeting teens, preteens, primarily, and I think actually even younger students to cause issues or problems for them based on their social media interactions. They’ve got data that they’ve gathered from different things, everything from CDC and other healthcare organizations that identify problems that some of the social media platforms are creating for them such as bullying, harassment, those types of things,” Greg Goheen, Gardner Edgerton School District council, said.

The lawsuit is similar to one filed against vaping company Juul. It accused the company of using advertising and flavors to be more appealing to teenagers.

While school board members say they realize it’s an uphill fight, they say it’s also something that has to be fought in order to protect students.

“It’s also about self-image issues. One of the things social media companies do is they drive this algorithm that causes teens and preteens to think ill of themselves. And then it’s this very attractive nuance almost that they can’t get away from because that algorithm also helps them to believe that through that process they can feel better about themselves. It’s this vicious cycle of sucking teens in,” Huff said.

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Huff says the district has taken the steps it can to protect students. Gardner Edgerton has blocked social media sites from its school district network. It also bans middle school students from carrying cell phones throughout the day. The school board is considering the possibility of expanding that policy to include the high school too.

But. the school district said there is only so much it is able to do.

“We really need the social media companies, though, from their end to drive the message home. But, it is such a huge money-maker that they don’t want to put things in place, as simple as parental limitations. Wouldn’t you, as a parent, love to be able to have a tool within those social media platforms to limit your kid’s access? It’s a family battle too, not just a battle in schools,” Huff said.

The attorney for the school district says there are all kinds of studies showing proof that too much time on social media leads to a lack of engagement, anxiety, sleep deprivation among teenagers.

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“I’ve had cases I’ve unfortunately had to litigate where you’ve had kids who are really sort of abused by social media sites based upon interactions with other individuals out there. A lot of body shaming, a lot of things that are really, really unhealthy for students and those cases they litigated against the school districts frankly for not doing things to try to step in and prevent some of those behaviors, which is very difficult for the schools to do because we don’t control their phones, we don’t control their social media devices, we just have to deal iwth the baggage those bring into the classrooms,” Goheen said.

The district said it provides educational safety programs, and has an option to expand those options to even more students and families.