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PPS plans to sue social media companies for costs it associates with student mental health needs


Pittsburgh Public Schools has retained two law firms to help the district sue several social media companies in an effort to recover increased costs it associates with therapies, counseling and other mental health services for students.

The district is following the lead of Seattle Public Schools, which filed a similar suit earlier this month alleging that the companies use manipulative and harmful conduct that has created a youth mental health crisis.

Pittsburgh Public Schools solicitor Ira Weiss said the district will seek to recover costs it incurred due to the damage and “pervasive nature” of the social media companies.

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In a 7-0 vote, the Pittsburgh school board approved a resolution Wednesday to retain the law firms Levin Sedran & Berman of Philadelphia and Robert Peirce & Associates of Pittsburgh to take legal action against the companies that operate Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. Board member Kevin Carter abstained from voting, and Sala Udin was absent.

Weiss said there won’t be a cost to the district for the planned litigation, as the upfront expenses will be covered by one of the law firms. He compared it to similar litigation the district filed against vaping manufacturers. That lawsuit is currently being litigated in California.

The Seattle district alleges the companies’ conduct constitutes a public nuisance under Washington law. It defines nuisance as “whatever is injurious to health or indecent or offensive to the sense, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to essentially interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of the life and property.”

That lawsuit claims that as the school district provides mental health services for students, it needs “a comprehensive, long-term plan and funding to drive a sustained reduction in the record rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and other tragic indices of the mental health crisis its youth are experiencing at [the social media companies’] hands.”

Weiss said the Pittsburgh district’s lawsuit is not dependent on Seattle’s and will be filed soon, although he did not provide a timeline.