Schools ask families to talk with students to prevent TikTok challenges damage - AZEdNews
Sections    Sunday March 26th, 2023

Schools ask families to talk with students to prevent TikTok challenges damage

Arizona State University Students Walk Down Palm Walk On The Tempe Campus On The First Day Of Class Aug. 16. Photo By Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now

Arizona schools encourage families to talk with their children about the consequences of damaging school property in the wake of campus vandalism due to recent nationwide TikTok challenges.

Chandler Unified School District messaged families to let them know that students who took part in the devious licks challenge to vandalize school property and post photos or videos of it on TikTok and other social media platforms would face school discipline – including suspension and expulsion – and law enforcement consequences from Chandler Police, Gilbert Police, and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

“A number of our secondary schools experienced some theft and vandalism regarding the first challenge to vandalize and steal from public restrooms,” said Terry Locke, director of community relations for Chandler Unified.

Initially, impacted schools communicated directly to their families, but since then communications have been sent district-wide, Locke said.

Chandler Unified’s message to families let them know that the  monthly challenges “are not pranks, they involve breaking the law. Please talk with your child about being socially responsible and kind.”

The message also encouraged families to share any information that could help prevent a future incident with school staff.

“Parents have been appalled by the actions and very cooperative with administration,” Locke said. “It’s been a lesson learned about how teen brains are not fully developed, and why parents need to monitor their children’s online activities. We’ve provided resources to help parents reinforce our safety message.”

Chandler Unified also provided families with resources to monitor their children’s social media as well as a social media FAQ for parents.

“Between Aug. 3-Oct. 12, there were 60 vandalism reports that the district has attributed to TikTok challenges. In a typical year, the district average is 5-10 cases of vandalism each month,” said Heidi Hurst, director of communications and engagement for Mesa Public Schools.

The district communicated with student’s families about the challenges, and asked them to discuss the consequences of taking part in the challenges, Hurst said.

“We also have an excellent educational technology team who helps staff, students and families learn more about safe online behavior,” Hurst said.

Mesa Public Schools is collaborating with law enforcement and school resource officers on reinforcing messaging about safe online behavior and the consequences of things like vandalism or online threats, Hurst said.

Impact at Arizona schools

Many schools around the state have been impacted by the TikTok challenges.

“Unfortunately, we did see a number of incidents of vandalism and theft of school property as a result of the TikTok Devious Lick challenge,” said Renee Ryon, director of communications and public relations for Dysart Unified School District. “As a result, there were times that we had to limit restroom access in order to prevent further damages and allow for better monitoring of restroom traffic,”

Dysart Schools also sent several messages to students families to inform them about the challenge and potential consequences for student involvement in criminal activities, Ryon said.

“We have asked for our parents’ partnership in speaking to their students about being responsible, and for students to report information they may have to help us stop further destruction from happening. Law enforcement has been involved, when necessary,” Ryon said.

“It is important to note that social media challenges like this are not innocent pranks and participation can impact a student’s future, result in costly repairs and replacement of items, and ultimately takes a school’s precious time away from other priorities,” Ryon said.

In Flagstaff, Sinagua Middle School emailed families in mid-September that students had vandalized restrooms by stealing or damaging items and had taken part in another challenge where Kool-Aid was sprayed across restrooms to mimic blood, the Arizona Daily Sun reported.

“We will not tolerate these actions and the complete disregard for our taxpayer’s hard-earned money to provide all students with a safe and clean learning environment,” Tari Popham, Sinagua Middle School principal, wrote in an email to students’ families. Discipline included “up to 5-10 days of out-of-school suspension and criminal charges,” and students and their guardians being held financially responsible for repairing the damage.

A CBS KOLD News 13 story detailed some of the damage done at some southern Arizona school districts along with schools’ innovative responses to prevent more incidents.

“We did have some TikTok challenge damage in our middle school bathrooms where soap and paper towel dispensers were removed from the walls,” Leslie Lenhart, director of communications and media relations for Tucson Unified School District told AZEdNews.

Social media challenges have been prevalent for many years, and even though some of these challenges are fun, light-hearted, and used to promote goodwill, many others are harmful and dangerous, said Amber Woods, director of community outreach for Sahuarita Unified School District, in an interview with AZEdNews.

September’s challenge “impacted several schools in Sahuarita, resulting in a significant reallocation of maintenance and custodial staff time to repair or replace equipment as well as the cost of replacing any damaged items,” Woods said.

“It is important for parents and students to know that some of these challenges have the potential to result in serious consequences, where others can pose a risk to student safety and well-being,” Woods said, noting that the district is including information in their upcoming electronic newsletter about digital awareness and online safety.

Depending on the severity of the incident, students involved may be subject to disciplinary consequences for first-time property destruction or vandalism, including the possibility of restitution, suspension, loss of privileges, and some cases may also result in police involvement, Woods said.

How to address social media challenges

Communication with students and families is the best tool to address these challenges, said Jessica S. Sanchez, an attorney with Udall Shumway

“Children need to understand that these challenges are not a joke. In addition to the serious consequences that may result, these challenges are hurtful to others and damaging to the school environment,” Sanchez said. 

“There are so many trends that are happening and continue to change that it becomes difficult for school administrators to keep up. From TikTok challenges to creating fake school social media accounts, school districts continue to partner with parents and staff to help keep them informed on how students can misuse social media,” said Heidi Vega, communications director for Arizona School Boards Association.

“It’s important for schools to continue to have conversations in the classroom with students about social media and consequences when misusing it that can cause social, emotional and physical damage to others,” Vega said.

Many schools have been proactive in communicating with their students and parents about the risks and dangers surrounding these challenges, Sanchez said.

“Schools may want to take this opportunity to review the student handbook with their students in their home rooms or over the announcements and how these challenges would violate the student handbook and/or constitute criminal activity,” Sanchez said.

Schools should also send out communications to parents to let parents know about these challenges, the potential for school discipline and/or referral to law enforcement and encourage parents to discuss these issues with their children, Sanchez said.   

“Any schools who have had these incidents on their campus should work with their law enforcement contacts for any criminal activity that takes places at school, including, but not limited to assault, sexual assault, theft, vandalism, disruption of an educational institution, and the like. Students should also be held accountable in accordance with the student handbook and Board policies and regulations,” Sanchez said.