Toilets clogged with fruit and vandalized bathrooms prompt districts to address TikTok challenge

By Katherine Minkiewicz-Martine, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, October 15, 2021

tik tok

Several Sonoma County schools are reviewing school rules, expectations and social media decorum with students following a new social media trend on TikTok that encourages students to partake in various challenges that inspire vandalism and other inappropriate behavior.

The viral trend, often known as the devious licks challenge, encourages students to participate in a new challenge each month.

Challenges range from tasks such as making a mess in the school cafeteria or bathroom, to more egregious conduct, like slapping a staff member or inappropriately touching another student.

The challenge has led to thousands of dollars worth of damage at some local schools and the closure of some school bathrooms as school sites address the concerning trend.

At the Healdsburg Unified School District, Superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel said most of what they saw was the September “damage school” challenge, where students vandalized school bathrooms at the junior high and high school.

“It has stopped thankfully,” Vanden Heuvel said. “We coordinated very quickly with our insurance who put up reward money for any information leading to finding out who did this. There were posters put up with a $250 reward at both schools and as soon as it got put up it came to a standstill.”

He said there were things taken from classrooms too, but the bigger issue was bathroom damage.

“They would take soap dispensers and there were random acts of vandalism too. We had over $3,000 worth of damage between the high school and the junior high,” Vanden Heuvel said.

He said the slap a staff member challenge is more concerning than vandalism, however, so far the district hasn’t seen any issues with this challenge.

“As soon as we started figuring out what was going on and that there was the capacity for these potential new challenges coming monthly and into the school year, I wrote a letter to parents telling them what we were hearing and to please talk to your student. If anyone is caught doing these things there’s obviously going to be consequences and we would love to avoid having any of these actions happen,” Vanden Heuvel said.

At the West Sonoma County Union High School District (WSCUHSD), which includes West County High School and Laguna High School, West County High School administrators also sent out a message to parents to alert them and explain the challenges that were posted on TikTok.

The Sebastopol Police Department also put out a statement regarding the trend.

In part, the statement reads, “It has come to our attention that there are a number of school related challenges being circulated on TikTok. Things like stealing an item from a school restroom, slapping a teacher, and others. These incidents occur at any schools within our jurisdiction and are reported to the police department, if our investigation determines a crime was committed, the perpetrators will face legal repercussions. These challenges are encouraging vandalism, assault, battery, and sexual assault.”

According to Toni Beal, WSCUHSD superintendent, West County High School experienced some bathroom vandalization, which was investigated, and the students involved paid restitution for the damage.

The Cloverdale Unified School District has seen bathroom vandalization at their elementary school and high school.

Cloverdale Unified School District Superintendent Betha MacClain said the students’ choices to damage bathrooms is particularly disappointing since the district recently completed a high school bathroom remodel.

“These bathrooms at the high school had not been renovated in a really long time and we had a big bond, so we renovated the high school bathrooms and that’s probably the most disappointing part of this, is that those were damaged,” she said.

MacClain said some of the bathroom damage included removal of soap and paper towel dispensers. Fake blood was also poured into some of the toilets and splattered in the bathroom.

“At the elementary level, industrial-sized rolls of toilet paper were shoved into toilets and we did not have serious plumbing damage. Most of it could be repaired by our own employees,” she said.

In regard to the most recent TikTok challenge to slap a school staff member, MacClain said they’ve tried to convey to the school community the seriousness of that challenge. She said the district hasn’t seen any incidents stemming from the challenge.

“That would be grounds for expulsion,” MacClain noted.

In response to the vandalism TikTok challenge, MacClain said they’re implementing more student accountability at school sites.

“You have to sign out and put the time down when you’re going to the restroom. Our interest is in having mutual respect and trust in their integrity, but that’s not what’s going on now,” MacClain said.

Incidents of bathroom vandalization have also occurred at the Windsor Unified School District, namely at Windsor Middle School, Cali Calmecac Language Academy and Brooks Elementary School.

Cali Principal Sharon Ferrer and Windsor Middle School Principal Amy Zigler said they’ve had similar instances of bathroom damage — from clogged toilets to ripped off soap dispensers and stained floors — at their schools.

“We had a couple incidents where students would put whole fruit into the toilet. It wasn’t daily and it was certainly more prevalent at the beginning of the month,” Zigler said.

Ferrer said she sent out a letter to Cali families discussing the need to come together as a community to help one another and to talk to their children about the trend.

Windsor Superintendent Jeremy Decker also sent out a letter to families regarding the challenge.

Kai Heflin, a student board member for the Windsor Unified School District and a Windsor High School senior, said it’s sad to see school property damaged or stolen.

“As the Student Board Member, I see the hard work of school staff and students. It saddens me that school property is being taken, destroyed, and stolen from our campuses for these TikTok challenges. Everyone at school shares the use of school property, so we have a duty to treat the property with respect,” Heflin said.

Why TikTok?

While the behavior in many ways is unacceptable, some superintendents voiced that it may be the effect of lingering mental health issues from years of natural disasters and the adjustment to being back at school after a year of distance learning.

“There was an interesting social media post that I saw by another educator about why this kind of vandalism happens, a lot of it being related to kids not feeling connected to their schools and not feeling like their schools are theirs. I think some of it is also about mental health and behavioral issues in general post pandemic. Kids are struggling to reintegrate after a year and a half out of school. Some of the behavior is either really immature, but is not necessarily with malice,” MacClain said.

Vanden Heuvel echoed MacClain and said in a lot of ways, kids are still dealing with trauma.

“Kids have lived through this traumatic situation and I think in a lot of ways, it is still traumatic. Kids are coming to school with that trauma and so there’s definitely a capacity for acting out,” he said.

Some school administrators expressed that it’s more to do with the effect that social media has on young people’s lives and re-learning how to self-regulate emotion.

“I don’t know that this is a mental health concern as much as it is the influence of social media in young people’s lives and needing to be better at critical thinking the outcomes of this and the impact it has on others,” Zigler said.

Despite this worrying trend, school sites like Windsor Middle School are working to create positive outlets and activities, like school dances and clubs, in an effort to rekindle a sense of school community and positivity.

Zigler said, recalling a recent school dance that several students attended, “So many good things are happening on our campuses.”

Student mental health resources and social media best practices

In response to the TikTok devious licks challenges that promote vandalism and potentially more serious, criminal acts, many local schools are talking with students about school expectations, mental health resources and ways to best use social media in an appropriate manner.

At West County High School in Sebastopol, school administrators held a safety assembly where school therapists outlined some of the positives and negatives of social media and spoke about the TikTok challenges.

Sebastopol Police Chief Kevin Kilgore also attended the assembly and added that touching, smacking, or jabbing could very easily be a criminal act.

At the Cloverdale Unified School District, they’ve tried to convey to students the seriousness of these challenges. Additionally, at Cloverdale’s Washington School, principal Mark Lucchetti sent out a letter to parents discussing the challenge.

In an interview with SoCoNews, Cloverdale Unified School District Superintendent Betha MacClain highlighted several of the district’s mental health resources.

“We work with an organization called SOS, which is our mental health counseling service. They provide a lot of our mental health support in the form of small groups and one-on-one counseling,” MacClain said.

Every school also has its own people services counselor, someone who can help with both academic and mental health counseling. The district also employs school psychologists who provide behavior support and special education assessments.

Additionally, at the elementary level, they have a social/emotional curriculum called “caring school communities” that helps younger kids learn to recognize their emotions and self-regulate. At the high school level, the district collaborates with the Cloverdale Police Department with an officer who works directly with students who commit serious offenses.

At Cali Calmecac Language Academy in Windsor, school administrators did three hour-long workshops with sixth, seventh and eighth grade separately and addressed TikTok issues and talked about the harm that was being caused and the lack of respect. They had students review the student handbook and specific information about digital citizenship, which had to be signed by the student and their parents.

At Windsor Middle School, principal Amy Zigler met with every P.E. class in every grade at the beginning of the school year to discuss the school expectations and student goals. They also reviewed the basics of discipline and who to see if a student needs help.

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