Francis Howell School District files a lawsuit against JUUL
Francis Howell School District sues JUUL for intentional harm as a result of illegal marketing.
Francis Howell School District (FHSD) filed a lawsuit on Oct. 7 against JUUL Labs Inc. (JUUL) for intentional harm out of the district’s control, joining many other school districts throughout the country.
This situation isn’t a class-action lawsuit, but rather a multi-district lawsuit, in which each school district (some school systems within Olathe, Kan., Long Island, N.Y. and La Conner, Wash.) files an almost identical lawsuit at the same time across the country and each district is still its own plaintiff.
Cindy Ormsby, legal counsel for Francis Howell School District, said the issue of juuling in school became especially prominent this year, prompting the district to take action.
“There have been reports of students in the fifth grade vaping in between classes,” Ormsby said. “And even as students are disciplined for violating school rules, the fact is they’ve become addicted to nicotine, so they can’t just quit.”
As a result, Ormsby said Francis Howell had to look into cessation and rehabilitation programs to help students. He said a growing effort is being put towards disciplinary consequences and helping students kick the nicotine habit, resulting in a spike in the cost of dealing with these issues.
The district decided to file the lawsuit under the premise that JUUL Labs Inc. had created a public nuisance by illegally marketing to an underage audience, making the school district, through no fault of its own, have to deal with the consequences of student addiction, rehabilitation and distraction from the school environment.
Ormsby said the prospects for the suit are decent.
“There’s really nothing the school district could have done to prevent this from happening beyond the already existing rules against tobacco products and other drugs in schools, but they’re still having to deal with the fallout,” Ormsby said. “It’s difficult to say with any certainty how any lawsuit will go, but I think Francis Howell will be compensated for some of the past, present and future damages that have come due to JUUL’s marketing.”
Francis Howell has already begun to buy programs from medical institutions to help students kick their nicotine addiction, but the cost is coming out of district funds despite these addictions not being the district’s fault.
Ultimately, Ormsby said the district hopes to receive financial compensation from JUUL in order to help rehabilitate addicted students and prevent the costs from coming out of taxpayer dollars.
Jennifer Patterson, director of student services at FHSD, said that any money coming from recompensation will go towards the medical and rehabilitation programs that other schools districts, such as those that have filed lawsuits as well, have been implementing.
“Francis Howell hasn’t gotten any of those technological or program materials to check for vape smoke in the hallways and such, because we believe prevention and education against vaping need our efforts right now,” Patterson said. “I’ve looked into some anti-vaping campaigns that we might partner with if we’re compensated, though.”
More than anything, Patterson said she’s worried about the health and safety of kids, and hopes to be able to provide all the materials necessary to help teachers and students get back to their normal school routine as a result of the lawsuit.
“Kids are dying,” Patterson said. “We just care about our students that much. We want to do everything in our power to help them out.”
Superintendent Dr. Mark Miles said, although Rockwood isn’t officially associated with the suit, the district administration is keeping a close eye on the proceedings.
“I always want to make sure that our district is using our resources wisely, so Rockwood, as of right now, will not be filing a lawsuit against JUUL,” Dr. Miles said. “However, we recognize that the electronic cigarette industry has had quite an impact on our young people, especially with the juuling epidemic.”
Dr. Miles said the Board of Education (BOE) didn’t specifically discuss whether to be a part of the multidistrict suit but rather had a general conversation about the topic.
“I haven’t said a definite no,” Dr. Miles said. “If it ever comes to a point where it would be to our advantage to file a suit, we’re in a position where we would then consider that. But, at this time, we’ve chosen not to engage, but to closely monitor.”
Lili Schliesser, project coordinator of the Rockwood Drug-Free Coalition, is in charge of the management and implementation of all activities taken towards issues related to drugs and alcohol. Francis Howell’s action of filing a lawsuit against JUUL is a strategy Schliesser and the coalition has not yet considered.
“That’s not saying that this isn’t a good step for Francis Howell. It’s just something we haven’t made plans on doing,” Schliesser said. “We are very particular in the strategies we use to target substance abuse and this just hasn’t come up.”
Schliesser also said a lawsuit has more significance than just the definitive ruling of the case and it raises awareness all around.
“We all have missions that we are living out on a daily basis as a school district and as a coalition,” Schliesser said. “Our mission is to keep students safe and to make sure that their futures are bright and sometimes you have to do unorthodox things to achieve that.”
Laurie Dolson, school store manager and member of the PTO, said she sees both sides of the situation.
“If you are looking at it from a parent’s perspective I would say all the power to Francis Howell,” Dolson said. “If you are looking at your individual kid, you don’t want JUUL to succeed in targeting them.”
Dolson said the resources and money being used for this lawsuit shouldn’t go as far as to affect students’ education and their access to resources and she sees why RSD has yet to join the campaign against JUUL.
Hannah Chun, junior, is the vice president of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and she organizes events to educate and inform students. She said she agrees with Dolson’s reasoning but sees the good in the lawsuit.
“I think it is very unlikely that they will win, but I’m glad that they are taking a stand against JUUL,” Chun said. “Fighting against JUUL is entirely up to a school district and the effect of vaping varies.”
Chun also said preventative measures should be taken on Francis Howell’s part, besides suing JUUL.
“I also think they should focus on educating students about the harm of juuling rather than trying to prevent things that are nearly impossible to prevent,” Chun said.
JUUL is legally obligated to file a response to each of the school district lawsuits in order to ensure the company isn’t given an immediate ruling against their favor. As of right now, JUUL hasn’t filed a response to Francis Howell’s suit, or to any of the other schools’ suits.
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