CHAMPAIGN — A TikTok prank challenge gone viral has school officials from Urbana to Utah warning students of the repercussions for theft, vandalism and other misbehavior.
Among the districts on alert: Champaign’s Unit 4, which notified families in a Friday letter that Central High — which is in the midst of a $102.7 million transformation — had been affected by a social media trend challenging students to “steal and damage items from schools, including toilets, soap dispensers, computers and even COVID-19 tests.”
Other Unit 4 schools were affected as well, according to the letter to Central families, which reminded them that disciplinary action, per the student code of conduct, “could be anything up to and including expulsion from school, along with monetary and/or service restitution.”
“Finally,” the letter went on to say, “we want to continue to communicate that everyone should be very careful of their use of social media. ... Seventy percent of employers and 35 percent of college admissions counselors are looking at applicants’ social media accounts when making their hiring/admission decisions.”
Of 17 other area districts reached since Friday afternoon by The News-Gazette, most administrators said they were aware of the latest “devious lick,” as such TikTok challenges are called, with four reporting damage as a result of it.
“Yes, we’ve been experiencing the outcomes of the current ridiculousness on social media,” Mahomet-Seymour Superintendent Lindsey Hall said. “We currently have few if any soap dispensers in our restrooms, and stall doors have been damaged as well.”
The financial toll, Hall said, is “certainly at least hundreds of dollars in damage and replacement costs, if not more.”
— St. Joseph-Ogden High had “soap dispensers stolen, soap dispensers damaged, paper-towel dispensers ripped off the walls and items stolen from individual classrooms such as pencil sharpeners and personal effects of teachers,” Principal Gary Page said.
That prompted a Friday announcement to the student body, which included a reminder that “having fully functioning restrooms are something we can all appreciate,” a warning about disciplinary action for bad behavior and this message:
“This is your school. Take pride in everything that helps make this place what it is. This includes our building. Vandalizing and stealing from bathrooms and/or classrooms is not only a criminal act, it is also a poor reflection on our school, detrimental to the culture of our building and will negatively affect all of our SJ-O experiences.”
— Urbana schools haven’t had any “major issues” since Monday, when the middle school experienced “some vandalism” tied to the TikTok trend, Superintendent Jennifer Ivory-Tatum said.
In a letter to families, Principal Joe Wiemelt wrote: “We were able to catch a few students in the act and we are reviewing video-camera footage to catch more students. … My message to all students and families is that for any student participating in this, we will eventually catch you and you will have formal disciplinary consequences and you will be responsible for monetary damages that have been done.”
— Blue Ridge Superintendent Hillary Stanifer said her district sustained “very minimal impact” but declined to comment further.
Unit 4 also declined to provide details, with spokeswoman Stacey Moore saying in a statement to The News-Gazette only that the district was “aware of some isolated incidents of minor damage to school property.”
That’s often the best way to respond to situations like these, in Seth Miller’s experience.
His Westville district was among those that hadn’t sustained damage, joining Arcola, Bismarck-Henning, Georgetown-Ridge Farm, Heritage, Milford, Monticello, Oakland, Rantoul, Salt Fork, Tuscola, Unity and Villa Grove, according to their administrators.
“In my opinion, issues like this are kind of like graffiti,” Miller said. “Graffiti happens, but usually the best approach is to take it down as absolutely quickly as possible, never speak a word of having even seen it, and don’t discuss it.
“Folks don’t get the response they are looking for, and their attention span is off to the next stupid idea, which teenagers are prone to have on occasion.”
Despite TikTok denouncing the challenge issued by one of its users, history tells Heritage’s Tom Davis — superintendent of a district with fewer than 150 high school students — that the threat of vandalism isn’t over.
“It usually starts in bigger (schools) and filters to smaller,” Davis said, “so we’ll be on the lookout.”