The Carson City School Board has authorized Superintendent Andrew Feuling to enter into an agreement with California’s Frantz Law Group, becoming Nevada’s ninth school district pursuing claims for damages against multiple social media platforms in a lawsuit.
The school district joins other districts nationwide seeking changes in the online companies’ practices to help students experiencing cyberbullying, physical damages or mental health challenges. Platforms named in the lawsuit include Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube and others, Feuling said.
“This brings recognition to the fact that there needs to be change to practices because of the impact this is having on youth,” Feuling said.
The attorney/client fee contract with the Frantz Law Group has no fiscal impact to the Carson City School District through the board’s approval, Feuling and district attorney Ryan Russell reported Tuesday. However, the board agreed to pay attorneys’ fees of 25% of any financial settlement or recovery obtained for the district.
It also would require at least 10 hours of work. The lawsuit targets the social media companies’ business practices and negative influences on students’ mental health needs, for which school districts have had to adjust services or programs offered.
The Frantz Law Group represented approximately 1,000 school districts in litigation efforts against Juul Labs and Altria in last year’s youth vaping settlement. Juul agreed to pay $1.2 billion to settle nearly 10,000 lawsuits against the company that produces e-cigarettes, which amounted to about 5,000 cases in California.
According to the group’s website, its most recent litigation on behalf of school districts names the major platforms and other companies, stating they have caused a mental health crisis among children and teenagers that is marked by higher proportions of anxiety, depression and thoughts of self-harm, all of which affect school success.
The 2021 Nevada Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a state-level assessment by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor trends among youth, shows 19% of Carson City’s students self-reported they had been electronically bullied in the previous year. This includes being bullied through texting or social media platforms such as Instagram or Facebook, according to the survey.
Feuling said after Tuesday’s school board meeting the district will seek further legal guidance on the work to be expected by joining the lawsuit. He added it would represent “past, present and potentially future costs related to the impact social media has on our youth.”
School administrators who investigate a single incident of bullying or cyberbullying that frequently stems from social media, for example, often find a claim takes four to eight hours to complete.
“If I have three administrators in a building and there’s three separate claims in one day, their entire day is wrapped up investigating these claims,” Feuling said. “There’s so much of that that comes back to social media and what is happening there and the irresponsible use of it.”
For CCSD’s resources and programs such as Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education), which delivers technology-based support to students and families in need of mental or behavioral health resources, the lawsuit is a different approach to help administrators, according to coordinator Michelle Cleveland.
“Once a bullying investigation starts, you have to drop everything and one of the administrators has to begin that investigation,” she said. “It is a big time sucker in that sense of trying to support kids, and the question of how that is affecting kids right now, it’s hard to say.”
Feuling said all of Carson City’s community partners who assist the district on cases said it comes down to being proactive.
“I think we’re going to see this is much bigger than realize, and we’re always reacting to it and trying to really rein it in so that there’s responsible use of this,” Feuling said. “Social media isn’t going to go away, but we want our kids to have appropriate access to it and in a healthy and responsible way.”