Oak Park River Forest High School District 200 has joined a federal class action lawsuit a California law firm has filed against major social media companies, such as Meta and TikTok.

Last week, the OPRF school board voted 5-0 to join the class action lawsuit filed by the Frantz Law Group. Board members Mary Anne Mohanraj and Audrey Williams-Lee abstained.

The lawsuit alleges that social media companies have behaved negligently and recklessly in a way that has harmed students and that school districts have incurred costs to treat the harms caused by practices of social media companies. 

“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, on behalf of the plaintiff school districts 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.” 

After the meeting, school board president Tom Cofsky said that the lawsuit is not about money.

“My decision has absolutely nothing to do with money,” Cofsky told the Wednesday Journal. “It has to do with we have a real issue and the real issue is that there is preying on our students through social media.”

“There’s algorithms that exist, etcetera,” he said, “and those companies know what they’re doing and they know how they’re making money. And it has consequences and it has consequences that are bearing out on our students, the addiction do it, all that. This is a chance to at least state a voice and say we don’t like it and you can change it and we’re asking you to change it.”

On approving the move, OPRF’s school board said: “The District’s students’ widespread adoption, consumption, and use of social media has caused the District to incur costs in the form of staff time, disciplinary proceedings, emotional and social counseling, medical services, and other costs, with the expectation that these costs will only increase unless and until student use of social media is reduced or the social media platforms reform their practices in attracting students.”

OPRF is the latest local district to 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.

There is little to no cost for OPRF to join the lawsuit. The Frantz law Group is filing the case on a contingency fee basis which means the law firm is paid a percentage, usually 33% to 40% of what they recover in the lawsuit. The only cost for OPRF would be the cost of producing some records. 

Mohanraj and Williams-Lee were not convinced that joining the lawsuit was a good idea. They said that they agreed that social media was causing harm to students but were not persuaded that the lawsuit was a good idea.

“I did read through the legal complaint and I found it unconvincing,” Mohanraj said before the vote. “I agree with all the parts about the harm that social media is doing to minors and all of their concerns I think are absolutely warranted. I think there are some inaccuracies in the technical aspects and I think that what they are asking for is implausible.”

Williams-Lee said that she was challenged by the validity of the lawsuit. She said that she agreed that social media can harm students, but questioned whether the lawsuit was the best way to address the problem.

“I just don’t know that I agree that this is the way to go about this,” Williams-Lee said.

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