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Five more Ontario school boards join lawsuit against social media platforms

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Five additional Ontario school boards and two independent private schools have joined a lawsuit against the owners of multiple social media platforms, including Snapchat, TikTok, and Facebook.

In a news release issued Wednesday, advocacy group Schools for Social Media Change confirmed that the lawsuit, which was first launched by four Ontario school boards back in March, now includes the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, the York Catholic District School Board, the Trillium Lakeland District School Board, the Ottawa Catholic District School Board, the District School Board of Niagara, and two private schools, including Holy Name of Mary College School in Mississauga and Eitz Chaim in North York.

In March, the Toronto District School Board, the Peel District School Board, the Toronto Catholic District School Board, and the Ottawa Carleton District School Board announced that they had launched suits seeking $4.5 billion in damages against the owners of the social media platforms for creating products that they alleged negligently interfere with student learning and have caused “widespread disruption to the education system.”

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The legal action comes as hundreds of school districts in the United States file similar suits.

“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,” Schools for Social Media Change said in a news release issued Wednesday.

The school boards are represented by Toronto-based law firm Neinstein LLP. The firm previously stated that the school boards “will not be responsible for any costs related to the lawsuit unless a successful outcome is reached.”

“What we are hoping to get out of this is multifaceted. We are hoping number one to affect change, to bring attention to this issue that the schools and school boards are so concerned about,” Mike Wolkowicz, Head of Mass Torts at Neinstein LLP, told CP24 on Wednesday.

“And number two to provide compensation and resources to the schools and school boards with the intention of bettering the student experience and helping the education system better confront these challenges.” 

This spring, the Ontario government announced a new set of rules aimed at cracking down on cellphone use in schools. The measures, which will go into effect in the 2024-25 academic year, include a ban on social media sites on all school networks and devices.

As of September, students in kindergarten to Grade 6 will be asked to keep their phones on silent and out of sight for the entire school day, unless permitted by an educator.

Students between grades 7 and 12 will not be permitted to use phones during class time.

Premier Doug Ford has previously spoken out against the lawsuits aimed at the social media giants, saying back in March that the legal action was “nonsense.”

“Let’s focus on math, reading and writing,” Ford said at the time. “That is what we need to do, put all the resources into the kids.” 

With files from CTV News Toronto's Katherine DeClerq

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