By Mandy Miles and Jim McCarthy
“There will be no leniency.”
That’s the message Monroe County school officials are sending when it comes to criminal behavior associated with social media dares and stunts.
The latest round of “TikTok Challenges,” also known as “Devious Lick Challenges,” (after the screen name of the creator) which circulate on the popular smartphone app, dare students — typically in middle and high school — to commit certain offenses, including “smack a school staff member” and “jab a boob.” The challenge for December states, “Deck the halls and show your b*&ls in the school halls.”
“The biggest thing is for parents to be aware that this is occurring and to monitor their children’s online activity,” said Amber Acevedo, a longtime Monroe County principal and current public information officer for the Florida Keys school district. “It could be on TikTok today, and another platform tomorrow, but these are criminal offenses. Some of them are actually felony sex offenses that will have severe and lasting consequences. These are decisions
that could affect a student’s life history.”
The level of aggressiveness is increasing and if some of the crimes are committed on school grounds, the penalties are enhanced, Acevedo added.
“There will be no leniency for these acts. Parents and students need to hear that and know that right now,” she said, adding that the school district had made the state attorney’s office aware of the situation.
“Slap a teacher, go to jail. Pretty simple,” State Attorney Dennis Ward told the Keys Weekly. “I’ll keep you in there for as long as I can keep you in there.”
Ward said his office hadn’t received any cases pertaining to Tik Tok challenges as of Oct. 5.
In schools across the country, TikTok bathroom challenges have left floor tiles smashed, urinals stolen and soap dispensers missing. Those who vandalize schools in Monroe County will pay a price, Ward said.
“If you go and vandalize school bathrooms, I don’t think your parents will be too happy because they’re going to have to pay for redoing the bathrooms, every penny that it costs the school district,” he said. “I’ll ensure the parents pay that. As far as the child, we’ll look at some type of community service and maybe even psychological evaluation.”
Ward said TikTok management needs to police itself.
“They need to take these kinds of things down or not let them go up in the first place,” Ward said. “But I don’t think their management is interested in doing that.”
But there is a bright side…
Sigsbee Charter School in Key West was the site of two bathroom vandalism incidents in the past month. But the school has turned the negativity and criminality of the TikTok challenges into a positive initiative while making parents aware of the concerns and potential consequences.
“The Devious Lick Challenge is a prime example of the influence that social media has on our students,” Sigsbee Principal Eli Jannes told the Keys Weekly on Tuesday. “We knew we had to address the challenge proactively. However, we did not want to empower those behind the challenge by giving it more attention. We decided to put our energies into creating our own challenges that would give attention to the type of behavior we want to see in our school community.”
School officials spoke to students how the vandalism sends a hurtful message to members of the maintenance staff who work hard to keep the school clean and safe.
“The students also learned about how our maintenance staff help out at our school in several ways — by teaching ukulele, posing as our living Elf-on-the-Shelf and coaching basketball. They then wrote notes, drew pictures or created banners to support and appreciate these staff members,” Jannes said.
The school also turned the “Smack a staff member” challenge into its new “Helpful Hands, Not Devious Ones” campaign that challenged each student to make a pledge to be helpful to one or more staff members, Jannes said, adding that the students are writing their pledges on paper hands, and the school’s S.A.V.E. Promise Club is turning them into wreaths for classroom doors.
“I don’t think any of my classmates would do anything like smack a teacher. My class is really kind-hearted,” Sigsbee sixth grader Jack Mitchell told the Keys Weekly. “We have respect for our teachers. But some younger kids might not understand how hurtful these things can be. We do have some homophobic older kids who have bullied kids for being gay or just different. So it’s great that we now have the S.A.V.E. Promise Club that’s all about anti-bullying and suicide awareness.”
The school has not encountered any further issues with the challenges, “and many of our students feel as though they are able to contribute in a positive manner to keeping our community respectful and responsible,” Jannes said.