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Superintendent addresses TikTok trend that encourages school vandalism

Some school bathrooms have been closed to prevent property damage

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The effects of a recent “challenge” circulating on the TikTok social media platform are being felt at some Fauquier County schools. School spokeswoman Tara Helkowski said Sept. 21 in response to a question about the trend, “We have reports of students damaging soap dispensers and paper towel dispensers, along with students locking bathroom stalls from the inside.” 

She added that some bathrooms had been closed to prevent the vandalism. Helkowski explained that “the bathrooms that have been closed are in the more remote areas of the buildings, making them difficult to monitor. This is occurring at several schools.”

She added Oct. 8, “To allow for staff to monitor bathrooms, some schools have limited the number of open bathrooms. Bathroom vandalism in the form of graffiti has existed for decades. Unfortunately, the TikTok challenge has amplified the severity and frequency of the damage.”

The destructive trend originated on Sept. 1, after a TikTok user posted a video showing a box of disposable masks they claimed to have stolen from school, with the caption, "A month into school ... devious lick."

In light of recent social media challenges, Dr. Jeck encourages students to make smart decisions and reminds them about the consequences of inappropriate behavior.

As similar videos with the term "devious lick" flooded the platform, news organizations around the country have reported that students have been stealing or vandalizing items from restrooms, such as soap and paper towel dispensers. Soon after, students allegedly began stealing or damaging other school property and posting videos about it.

The afternoon of Oct. 8, Fauquier County Public Schools sent a letter to parents that said, “As reported in the media, there is a TikTok challenge circulating called the ‘devious lick’ challenge. It involves stealing or vandalizing school property and posting videos about it. In recent weeks, students at many of our schools have participated in this challenge, stealing from and vandalizing our bathrooms.”

To further address the problem, Superintendent of Schools David Jeck released a two-minute video frankly stating the penalties that could result from the vandalism. He said, “In Virginia, any vandalism that results in damage of $1,000 or less is considered a class one misdemeanor, which is the highest form of a misdemeanor in the state of Virginia. And it carries with it up to a $2,500 fine and up to 12 months incarceration that can be in a juvenile facility or in an adult facility. So, my advice to you is, if you've done something like this, or are thinking about doing something like this, please think again.”

He emphasized, “You're inconveniencing your fellow classmates, and you're inconveniencing your teachers, administrators and parents. So don't do it. It's not smart. It's going to create all kinds of problems for you that you just don't want.”

Jeck said that the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office is being consulted about investigating the incidents, adding, “And we are more than willing to prosecute and file charges against those people who are responsible.”

The sheriff's office reported Oct. 12 that it had not received any reports of damage or thefts involving school property related to the recent Tik Tok challenge.

To close the video, Jeck appealed directly to parents, saying, “Please talk to your child/children about this challenge and about social media in general. While something like this may seem like an innocent prank on the surface, theft and vandalism are criminal activities and can easily cost our schools thousands of dollars a week to repair or replace items.

“Thank you for your support and understanding regarding the impact this trend has had on our schools and community. We appreciate your partnership in working to keep this trend out of Fauquier County Public Schools.” 

Jeck also addressed another TikTok challenge that involves hitting or slapping a teacher.

He said, “The second thing I want to mention is there are rumors about a second TikTok challenge involving touching teachers inappropriately and, again, the same message, that's stupid.

“Depending on where the teachers are touched, that could result in a sexual battery charge. And again, we are in contact with the Sheriff's Office. If you're thinking about doing something like that, please think again. It will create more problems for you than it's worth.”

Jeck added, “And frankly, our teachers don't deserve that. Our teachers have had to endure enough in the last two years. They don't need this. I care about all of you. I want you all to be successful, but we can't have this continue and disrupt our schools, and it's got to stop.”

The Fauquier County School Board is set to address the TikTok challenge issue at its Oct. 12 board meeting. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the Fauquier High School cafeteria.

TikTok has removed videos featuring “devious lick;” the original video was removed on Sept. 13. The trend was banned by TikTok on Sept. 15 for violating TikTok's community guidelines against illegal activities; by that time, the "devious" hashtag had already received more than 235 million views.

Currently, searching TikTok with the search term “devious lick” results in a message from TikTok, “No results found. This phrase may be associated with behavior or content that violates our guidelines.”

Reach Robin Earl at Rearl@fauquier.com

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