In recent weeks, an unusual phenomenon has rippled through schools across much of the country: As students returned to class, bathroom toilets, soap dispensers, science lab microscopes, parking signs and desks have disappeared or been damaged.
Enticed by a viral TikTok challenge, students have pilfered or vandalized items at their schools and then showed off their antics, or “devious licks,” on the popular social media platform — often as a sped-up version “Ski Ski BasedGod” by rapper Lil’ B plays in the background.
“In two school years unlike any other, this is absolutely the last thing we need to be dealing with,” said Jeffrey Haney, a spokesperson for the Canyons School District in a Salt Lake City suburb where bathroom mirrors have been shattered and toilets flooded.
The so-called Devious Licks challenge has sparked condemnation from already-stressed school leaders, a handful of arrests and now action from TikTok, which announced Wednesday it will remove videos associated with the trend and redirect related hashtags after reports of schools from California to Connecticut experiencing vandalism and theft.
“We do not allow content that promotes or enables criminal activities,” a spokesperson for TikTok told The Post in a statement Friday, noting content like the Devious Licks challenge goes against the platform’s community guidelines.
News reports from around the country suggest the pranks carry a high price tag: A San Antonio-area school shared photos of shattered mirrors and dislodged soap dispensers in the bathroom, while a Southern California school said paper towel dispensers and fire alarms had gone missing. At one eastern Michigan high school, the principal reported the trend had devolved beyond swiping trophies for social media clout and into “malicious vandalism” with randomly destroyed property, like intentionally-clogged toilets.
School administrators are responding with public service announcements and letters to parents that take varying tactics, ranging from imploring students to help their overburdened school staff to warning students may face fines, replacement costs, in-school suspension or even criminal prosecution.
TikTok challenges commonly grow from a silly dare or attempt at a memorable reaction — like the Milk Crate and Frozen Honey challenges — into a viral trend where participants try to outdo already outlandish feats (often against the pleadings from medical professionals).
For some school administrators, the Devious Licks challenge is not only frustrating, it’s baffling in a year when so many were eager to return to an in-school setting.
Haney, with the Canyons School District in Utah, said even though his district is more fortunate than some with investment from taxpayers into the local school system, they don’t have money to spare.
“Every penny we get we want to invest in the classroom,” he said.
Principals in the district have reported broken mirrors, soap smeared all over bathroom walls and floors and even damage to the heat sensors in the sprinkler system that caused the alarm to “ring and ring and ring.”
The damage estimate at Canyons is still being totaled, but Haney said there’s already an immediate impact on staff time.
“Our custodians mostly end up responsible for cleaning up,” he said. “In this day and age, we’ve asked our custodians to be on the front lines asking them to make sure our schools are as clean as possible. And every time they have to clean up this mess, it takes time away from making our schools a safe and welcoming environment.”
The behavior in his district goes beyond kids being kids, he argued. For some of the older students, there could be serious consequences: Students could face felony charges if the damage that exceeds $1,000, he said.
“Let’s not forget many of our seniors are over 18, they could face charges as an adult,” he said.
Many of the district’s 34,000 students are fed up, too, Haney added. In Utah, students can access an app called SafeUT, managed by the Utah State Board of Education. Originally launched as a suicide intervention tool, students can also use it to report unsafe behavior: in recent days, students in the Canyons District have used it to report damage associated with the Devious Licks challenge, he said.
“It takes a lot for teenagers to turn one of their peers in,” he said.
On Friday, videos associated with the challenge were still easily accessible on TikTok, sometimes under alternate spellings or slightly reworded versions of the “DeviousLicks” hashtag.
Snippets of unzipped backpacks that revealed a stolen soap dispenser were still plentiful, but a new trend had already emerged: Students pointing their phones at the wall or ceiling as an exasperated principal could be heard over the public address system telling students to knock it off.