Crystal Lake, Cary schools sue TikTok, YouTube, other social media sites over mental health impact on kids

‘We’ve seen a severe and negative impact on our students,’ superintendent says

Crystal Lake-based Community High School District 155 is photographed on Friday, Aug. 7, 2020.

Crystal Lake-based Community High School District 155 and Cary School District 26 have joined a national lawsuit against social media companies over claims they have caused mental health harm to children.

California-based Frantz Law Group initially filed the lawsuit in April on behalf of 16 school districts against social media companies including TikTok, Snap, YouTube and Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram. Since then, more than 800 school districts have joined in the lawsuit, including districts 155 and 26.

The lawsuit claims the social media companies have caused a mental health crisis among children and teenagers “where they are subjected to often harmful and exploitative content that encourages disordered eating, unhealthy social comparison and cyberbullying,” according to statement from the law firm.

The law group claims social media companies failed on parental controls and age verification measures while targeting children with addiction-forming algorithms.

Frantz Law Group reached a $1.2 billion settlement with almost 1,000 school districts against JUUL Labs for youth vaping in 2022.

District 155 joined the lawsuit because it has seen an increase in counseling services to help with student mental health that can be directly or indirectly tied to social media, District 155 director of communications Shannon Podzimek said.

“Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that a number of companies designed addictive apps and subsequently marketed them to students who are uniquely susceptible to manipulation,” Podzimek said in an email to the Northwest Herald.

District 26 was prompted to increase the number of social workers in recent years to aid student mental health needs, Superintendent Brandon White said.

“Although that is not 100% directly tied to social media, that impact is definitely there,” he said.

Cyberbullying and conflicts have increased through social media outlets among students, White said. The district has created programs to raise awareness on how social media can be harmful.

“We’re really getting kids to understand how to talk face-to-face again and to deal with conflict and resolution in a healthy way versus over a keyboard or a screen,” he said.

The lawsuit also includes other ways social media has affected students, like when a national TikTok challenge in 2021 encouraged children to vandalize school bathrooms, which happened to some schools in District 26, White said.

The district will be collecting data in the coming months on how much social media has made a financial impact from increased social services to repairing vandalism, White said.

The school districts will not have to do anything once they collect impact estimates and will not have to pay any legal fees, according to resolutions with both districts. If a settlement is reached, Frantz Law Group will take 25% of the monetary settlement or recovery.

“We want to make sure our kids use technology and social media platforms in productive ways, and we believe that’s possible,” White said. “But, unfortunately, we’ve seen a severe and negative impact on our students.”