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BCS joins battle against social media

Posted on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 at 8:00 am


Back in January, Bedford County Schools became one of the now 33 schools to join a national lawsuit against major social media companies.

The lawsuit, which was presented at the Tennessee School Board Association conference in November, is headed by the law firms Lewis Thomason, a Tennessee-based group, and Frantz Law Group, based in California.

The lawsuit alleges that social media companies target youth with material that leads to mental health distress, increased bullying, and harassment, such as vandalism.

School superintendent Tammy Garrett said these issues are all too common in districts across the state and country. After doing some research, she said decided to get the district involved. She also consulted BCS’s district attorney Chuck Cagle who is with the Lewis Thomason group.

“One of the big things is the impact on students’ mental health since the existence of social media,” said Garrett. She added that from an administrative perspective valuable class time is taken away when school resource officers and counselors have to investigate threats or bullying that is spread across the platforms.

“We’ve been through situations that they have these ‘challenges’ in which they vandalize school property and that costs us a lot of money,” said Garrett, adding that any recovered expenses from the lawsuit may go to paying for damaged school property.

Garrett referenced several other school superintendents who were involved in a lawsuit against the vaping company JUUL, which resulted in an over $460 million settlement, according to NBC News.

She said that if BCS gets enough resources from the lawsuit they could look into implementing small groups of students to focus on the impacts of social media on mental health.

For example, “We could have social workers or school counselors that help us address some of these things that get put in kids’ minds of ‘I have to look a certain way,’” said Garrett. She also said she would love to be able to target helping kids with social skills.

Garrett said social media gets addictive when popularity and influencers cause kids to follow. They also get instant gratification from classmate liking posts.

“There’s more research now that shows algorithms target young folks. And so part of this is not only for us to get money from this situation but also to hold the companies responsible,” said Garrett. “I think we have to stand up for our kids and protect them.”

Those companies involved in the lawsuit include Meta, who owns Facebook and Instagram, along with WhatsApp, TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube, and Google.

Requirements for the lawsuit are minimal. The districts have to provide very little data and there is no monetary cost to be in the lawsuit, according to Garrett.

School systems have until May 1 to join the lawsuit.

The key is finding the balance.

“The challenge is making sure we’re designing lessons and activities that are engaging to students,” said Garrett.

Carol Garrette, BCS Director of Communications, explained this can look like business communication courses in CTE (Career technical Education) lessons which looks at how to appropriately and effectively manage social media sites for work.

“Shifting the students to thinking about how to turn this into something positive, how can we use their skills for good, which includes technology and social media,” said Garrette.

Current BCS policy requires phones to be off and put in backpacks while students are at school. She explained some teachers request students to leave the phone at a designated spot in the classroom or only use phones with their permission. But whether they’re headed toward legislation or stricter rules about cell phone use in the classroom is to be determined.

“Where’s the healthy balance in letting students have access to technology and the detriments and the distraction it causes? There’s a lot of discussion about it,” said Garrette.

The school district will join the following school systems, represented by Lewis Thomason and Frantz Law Group, in the lawsuit as of writing: Anderson County Schools; Bledsoe County Schools; Blount County Schools; Cannon County Schools; Claiborne County Schools; Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools; Collierville Schools; Cumberland County Schools; Fentress County Schools; Grainger County Schools; Greene County Schools; Greeneville City Schools; Hamblen County Schools; Humphreys County Schools; Johnson City Schools; Johnson County Schools; Knox County Schools; Lenoir City Schools; Lincoln County Schools; Loudon County Schools; Maryville City Schools; Metro Nashville Public Schools; Oak Ridge City Schools; Oneida Special School District; Putnam County Schools; Sevier County Schools; Shelby County Schools; Stewart County Schools; Sullivan County Schools; Tullahoma City Schools; Van Buren County Schools; Warren County Schools; and Wilson County Schools.