Viral TikTok trend that encourages vandalism hits California schools
Toilets ripped out of bathroom stalls. Backpacks stuffed with plastic cafeteria spoons and electric hand dryers yanked from walls. COVID-19 test dispensers emptied of their contents.
Such has been the theft and vandalism provoked by a viral TikTok trend that has left some California school districts grappling with thousands of dollars in damages to their facilities.
The so-called devious lick challenge that began early this month encourages students to share videos of their misdeeds on TikTok. The primary target has been bathrooms, where students have stolen and destroyed mirrors, sinks and urinals, videos of the trend show.
The nationwide phenomenon has hit California districts, including San Jose, Elk Grove, the East Bay Area and the Coachella Valley.
The damage has been extensive at the Coalinga-Huron Unified School District in Fresno County. Students from fifth grade to high school have destroyed soap, toilet paper and hygiene-product dispensers. They’ve smeared soap and red dye on toilets, walls and floors.
The district had replaced 41 soap dispensers across eight schools as of Friday. Supt. Lori Villanueva estimated that students have caused upward of $20,000 in damage.
“We don’t usually have this kind of vandalism,” Villanueva said. “The fact that we had it at such a high degree in such a short amount of time caught us off guard.”
The district has paid school bus drivers overtime to monitor bathrooms, which has mostly stopped the vandalism tear that began late last week, Villaneuva said.
A dozen students have been caught either in the act or through their TikTok videos. Middle- and high-schoolers have been suspended and their parents have been billed for the damages. The younger students are required to participate in restorative justice practices, such as helping custodial staff clean the bathroom, Villanueva said.
A “lick” is slang for a “successful type of theft which results in an acceptable, impressive and rewarding payday for the protagonist,” according to Urban Dictionary. TikTok has discouraged the trend by removing associated hashtags and redirecting users to a company statement on criminal activity.
Many districts sent notices to parents this week, asking them to dissuade their children from engaging in vandalism. An announcement from the Coachella Valley Unified School District — where towel dispensers, signs and fire alarms were stolen — encouraged parents and students to report such violations through a school safety app.
The San Ramon Valley Unified School District in the East Bay Area said in a Thursday letter to parents that students have caused “severe damage” to campus facilities.
“We are very concerned about our students and the possibility that they may not fully understand the gravity of the behavior in which they are engaging,” wrote Assistant Supt. Christine Huajardo.
Elsewhere in the country, districts have closed restrooms and created new bathroom schedules in an effort to prevent damage. Students in Boyertown, Pa., are facing criminal charges.
Los Angeles County’s largest school districts, L.A. Unified and Long Beach Unified, told The Times that as of Friday they had not been impacted by the trend.
The Los Angeles School Police Department is aware of the fad and is monitoring social media activity, said Sgt. Rudy Perez.
“Please, please talk to your kids about this kind of stuff,” Perez said. “The digital citizenship starts at home.”
Some pupils have spoken out against the behavior. At Coalinga High School, students made cards for custodial staff and bus drivers, thanking them for all they’ve done to clean, repair and protect campus facilities.
“It let us know that the kids don’t like this either,” Villanueva said.
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