On May 23, 2023, United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, issued an extraordinary public warning that “[t]here are ample indicators that social media can … have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.”
Boards of education and school districts are well aware of the increase in mental health challenges for students in recent years; many districts have needed to add counseling staff and services to help address the mental health crisis among children and teenagers.
Believing that social media is a factor in the steady rise of students struggling with mental health difficulties, some New Jersey school districts have taken matters into their own hands by filing lawsuits against Meta (Facebook and Instagram), TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube and others. Districts that have filed suits include the School Board of the Chathams, Irvington Public Schools, Watchung Hills Regional High School District, and Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District.
Each lawsuit emphasizes the critical role that public schools play as first responders in safeguarding the well-being of their students. The lawsuits demand that the defendants be held accountable for the harm they have caused and that they implement measures to protect the youngest and most susceptible members of our society.
“We cannot ignore the profound impact that social media has had on our students’ mental health and overall well-being,” says Dr. Joseph G. Majka, J.D., superintendent of the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District. “As a public school district, we are on the frontlines, witnessing the consequences firsthand and dedicating increasing resources to address this crisis. Bringing this federal lawsuit is a critical step towards seeking justice and ensuring that the social media companies are held responsible for their actions.”
“The harms caused by these defendants have impacted the school district’s ability to carry out its core mission of providing an education,” adds Dr. Michael LaSusa, superintendent of the Chathams.
The Watchung Hills Regional High School district, in a news release the district sent out when it filed suit, noted the difficulties students have experienced, as well as the additional costs that the board was incurring. “ WHRHS has been forced to spend increasing resources in an effort to address the mental health needs of WHRHS’s students at all grade levels, including students’ rising rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. WHRHS expenditures in this area are not sustainable and divert resources from classroom instruction and other programs. In short, the harms caused by these Defendants have impacted WHRHS’s ability to carry out its core mission of providing an education.”
Annette Ascoli, the president of the Matawan-Aberdeen board, alluded to the importance of districts taking on these lawsuits. “[Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District] is proud to stand alongside other plaintiffs, united in the pursuit of justice and the protection of our students and their mental and physical well-being,” she said.
The districts mentioned here are all being represented by Carella, Byrne, Cecchi, Olstein, Brody & Agnello, P.C., a Roseland-based firm.