School board in discussion over Juul lawsuit

Sophia Comas, Online Editor-in-Chief

The USD 383 Board of Education heard a proposal to join a litigation against the company Juul at their latest meeting last Wednesday. Should they vote to take action, the board would become the sixth school district in Kansas to join the lawsuit. 

The proposal, brought to the board by Kansas City lawyer Eric Barton, would put the district as well as Manhattan High in a position to potentially testify against Juul’s negative impact on minors, who are claimed to be specifically targeted by Juul’s marketing. According to Barton, Juul is the “architect of the epidemic” in teen addicts.  

“The litigation that we’re talking about.. is by no means going to solve the vaping and Juul problem,” Barton said in his proposal. “It is a serious public health and youth health issue right now and what this litigation aims to do is both provide a source of pressure on Juul… [and] also provide a vehicle to generate some resources for school districts… to try to help their students get through the addiction crisis.”

While the litigation would involve the entire school district, it would also involve data from Manhattan High. Kari Humes, the drug and alcohol prevention coordinator for MHS, keeps track of how many students admit to using things like Juul, which is now at 18%.

“It’s something we seriously need to think about,” Darell Edie, newly re-elected board member said. “I think it takes strong consideration.”

Members of the board such as Edie took notice of the fact that Juul intentionally used platforms like social media to attract attention from minors. The proposal highlighted how they even mimicked discontinued ads from the tobacco industry, which is restricted from marketing to people under 18. Juul, however, is not.

“There is no way to target a product like this to a 19 year old without targeting a 17 year old,” Barton said. “They’ve taken advantage of the new resources and avenues to reach young people.”

Among the board’s concern for its students, they’re also concerned about the effects a lawsuit would have on its staff. Although it will be at no cost to the board, things like testimony and compiling evidence would take excessive amounts of time. There’s also no guarantee that the lawsuit would be viewed as a class action suit by a judge, meaning that the school board would have to go through an even longer and drawn out legal process should they be viewed as a sole plaintiff. 

“I’m convinced there needs to be a lawsuit,” Curt Hermann, board president, said. “I’m just worried about… the school finance policy.” 

By the end of the proposal, all five present board members unanimously voted for the litigation to be a future agenda item. They agreed that no decisions would be made in terms of joining it or not until all questions and concerns had been addressed. They also made sure that the new board members elected on Nov. 6 — Bandy Santos and Kristine Brighton — were involved as well, unofficially taking their vote into account. Both agreed with the majority.

“I don’t know that I would agree with the lawsuit, but I don’t have all the information,” Santos said. “I think it’s something to move forward with.”

The board will readdress the litigation in their next meeting on Oct. 20 at 6:30 p.m.