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School boards unite in lawsuit against social media platforms

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Another local school board has joined in a lawsuit against the social media giants Meta, Snapchat and TikTok.

On Wednesday, Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) issued a letter to parents announcing it is united with several other Ontario school boards, including the Simcoe County public school board, to push for change concerning social media's impacts on students.

In the letter, TLDSB notes, "As parents/guardians, many of you know firsthand the impact that social media products have had on students. In fact, it's rewiring the way they think, act, behave and learn."

In March, four statements of claim were filed against Meta and the owners of Snapchat and TikTok, citing the platforms have caused mental health issues and violent episodes in their schools.

The school boards are suing for $4.5 billion in damages - compensation they say is for the "disruption to our mandate" and "support students' fundamental right to education."

The legal action follows similar suits across the border involving hundreds of American school districts.

Late last month, the Ontario government announced it would ban cellphone use in elementary and high schools starting in September, but educators say that more is needed.

"Restricting the use of devices in schools is just one action, but as we know, compulsive social media use outside the classroom will continue to permeate the education system and impact student learning unless change is made by the social media companies," stated Wes Hahn, TLDSB director of education.

The Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board has not joined the lawsuit. In April, a spokesperson told CTV News the board would investigate the matter before making any decisions.

TLDSB stated it had retained legal representation by Neinstein LLP. The firm noted that school boards would only pay their fees if they achieved a successful outcome.

In an email to CTV News regarding the litigation, the law firm stated, "The mix of public and Catholic school boards and private schools in both urban and rural regions of Ontario demonstrate this is a universal issue that affects those from diverse cultural, religious and socio-economic backgrounds."

It continued, "The addictive properties of the products designed by social media giants have compromised all students' ability to learn, disrupted classrooms and created a student population that suffers from increasing mental health harms. As a result, social media companies have forced school boards to divert significant resources, including personnel, hours, funds, and attention to combat the growing crisis caused by their products."

The allegations have not been proven in court.

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