Features

Greg Narver – Seattle Public Schools

Safeguarding student mental health in fight against social media giants

According to HealthyChildren.org, 62 percent of teenagers and 18 percent of kids ages 8-12 use social media every day.

Data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2022 revealed that 37 percent of high school students reported poor mental health since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While many studies have sought to show the connection between social media use and mental health, most evidence thus far has been anecdotal.

“It’s been clear to us for some time that there’s been an issue with youth mental health and an increase in crises,” Greg Narver says. “We’re not saying that it’s all due to social media, but it’s a substantial factor.”

Greg Narver | General Counsel | Seattle Public Schools

Greg Narver | General Counsel | Seattle Public Schools

He’s the general counsel for Seattle Public Schools, the largest school district in Washington state. In collaboration with outside counsel, Narver has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the district against various social media platforms, including Meta (the owner of Facebook and Instagram), TikTok, SnapChat and Google (the owner of YouTube).

The lawsuit is aimed at the companies’ development of algorithms, which Narver says are designed to get young people addicted to spending time on the platforms, at great cost to student mental health and body image.

“They prey on the developing minds of young people,” he says. “The goal of the lawsuit is to effect change in how these companies operate and to seek greater accountability from them in safeguarding the health of their most vulnerable users.”

Social implications

The lawsuit was filed Jan. 6 in federal court in the Western District of Washington. As of April, the case has been transferred to a Multidistrict Litigation in the Northern District of California for pre-trial proceedings.

Narver is also keeping an eye on a case pending at the U.S. Supreme Court, Gonzalez v. Google, in which he filed an amicus brief on behalf of the district. The lawsuit and the district’s brief urge the Court to modify prior judicial interpretations of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a 1996 law that says websites hosting third-party content aren’t responsible for the harmful impact of that content. Narver says the Court is expected to rule this year and its decision could help Seattle Public Schools’ case.

In addition to preparing and filing the social media lawsuit, Narver has been spending considerable time educating people on the case. He’s spoken at school board meetings to explain the suit and its progress and has met with public advocacy organizations to answer their questions.

The district, which has 104 schools and a student population of just under 50,000, has 30 school-based health centers that, among other services, provide mental health care. According to Narver, the only mental health support some students receive is at school and counselors, as well as teachers and administrators, have been feeling the strain.

Greg Narver | General Counsel | Seattle Public Schools

He says his goal is for the social media companies named in the district’s lawsuit to change how they do business, particularly with respect to young people, and to provide financial support to school mental health services.

“I want the district’s policy makers and education experts to know that my team has their back on legal issues, so that they can focus on what they do best: creating a positive learning environment where all students can get a world-class education,” he says.

Building for the future

When not working to ensure students are protected from large corporations, Narver is laying the legal groundwork to help them have more fun.

He’s been providing legal support on a capital project to replace the district’s aging football stadium, Memorial Stadium, which was built in the late ‘40s. In 2022, Seattle voters approved $66.5 million for the project in a capital levy, but Narver says this would only fund basic upgrades.

So, the district is working with the City of Seattle and other community partners to design and construct a higher quality stadium. In addition to hosting high school sports games, it would also be a venue for graduations and cultural, educational and artistic events for students and the community.

The city, which owns the campus surrounding Memorial Stadium, plans to contribute $40 million, and the State of Washington will be contributing $4 million in state capital funds. The district is also seeking a private partner for additional funding.

Narver is advising the district’s capital projects team in these discussions, with an eye on the many state laws that govern school district projects. If the enhanced stadium renovations move forward, he expects it will be several years before it’s completed.

“It feels like there’s a lot of opportunity here to do something more,” he says. “I attended Seattle Public Schools in the 1970s and went to a lot of football games, and the stadium was showing its age then. It’s time for something new.”

Public service calling

After graduating from Seattle Public Schools, Narver earned his J.D. from the University of Washington in 1988. He then worked in private practice and on Capitol Hill before joining the Seattle City Attorney’s Office in 2006.

“When I moved into local government, I felt this is what I was meant to do,” he says. “There are things I can do as a lawyer at the local level to do my part to make the community a better place. I really felt a calling for the work I did there.”

Greg Narver | General Counsel | Seattle Public Schools

His time with the city helped lay the groundwork for the work he’s now doing on Memorial Stadium. Between 2016 and 2018, he was involved in negotiations and helped draft agreements as the city renovated an aging arena into what is now Climate Pledge Arena, the home of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken.

Narver says he was happy in the City Attorney’s Office and didn’t have plans to leave. But, when a colleague mentioned the opening at Seattle Public Schools, he decided to apply. Despite not knowing much about educational law, he was hired in 2019 and “inherited a team of five people who knew everything about it,” he says.

As with local government, he’s found the public service aspect of working for the district to be the most rewarding.

“I genuinely believe my team can make a difference,” Narver says. “Even though I’m not in classrooms, I believe if I do my job well it supports our mission of providing the best possible education for students.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Summer I 2023 Edition here.

Published on: May 16, 2023

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