MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE — Just two weeks into the new school year with students finally back in classrooms, administrators are reaching out to parents for help in stopping a disturbing trend on social media that is leaving buildings on campus vandalized. A national trend on social media platforms such as TikTok and Snapchat entices youth to copy “challenges.” According to Talmadge Middle School Principal Perry LaBounty, students within the Central School District have been participating in the latest challenge, “devious lick,” urban slang for a successful theft.

“This current TikTok trend is where users film themselves pulling supposedly stolen school supplies out of their backpacks with a variation on the phrase ‘first day of school copped a devious lick.’ It has also evolved to include vandalism without theft of items,” LaBounty wrote to parents last week.

The “devious lick” challenge escalated to encourage students to steal things from their campuses like soap dispensers, toilet paper holders, microscopes, signs, a box of hand sanitizer and more, all to the same audio. LaBounty said the administration has heard that this trend is now also spreading outside of schools to stores, movie theaters and more.

In an effort to outdo previous posts, challenge participants across the county have escalated to destroying toilets and theft of more expensive school supplies, like TVs and computers.

In the first two weeks of Talmadge opening, about eight soap dispensers have been ripped off the wall, LaBounty said. Some teachers’ keys have also gone missing. He added while dispensers are replaceable, it’s a costly expense and sets back efforts of washing hands for COVID-19 safety protocols.

“For Talmadge Middle School and our district to replace these items is very costly and takes precious time away from other priorities,” LaBounty wrote. “Beyond this, our custodial team works very hard to serve our students for in-person learning and keep our campuses clean and safe; especially with the increased risks from COVID-19.

TikTok itself has taken action removing these challenge videos from its platform. When someone searches for the “devious lick” challenge is instead referred to the site’s community standards page.

However, LaBounty said his staff has already seen the challenges pop up under another name on TikTok and other platforms. That’s why he said they’re enlisted the help of parents to help end the trend.

“If your child uses social media, please talk to them about being socially responsible and kind; this ‘challenge’ is criminal behavior, not an innocent prank, and theft and vandalism have school consequences,” LaBounty wrote.

“Even if your child does not have social media, they may likely hear about this disturbing trend. Let’s work together to put a stop to this now. We are asking for the entire Talmadge community to partner with us to eliminate this behavior on our campus.” LaBounty Continued. “If you have any information regarding these incidents or questions about this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me. We look forward to your continued partnership, and your support of our Talmadge Cougars; we are better, together!”

LaBounty said if a student is caught participating in a challenge that results in vandalism, rather than expel the offender, the student’s family will be held responsible in absorbing the cost.

“Our goal is to always keep students in school and help them make better decisions, change their behavior,” he said.

LaBounty encourages students who may know who participated in the challenge to call the school’s normal tip line, usually used to report abuse or bullying,

“We all need to work together. We’re excited to have kids back in school, to continue to move forward,” he said. “This is impacting school safety. That’s why we sent (the letter) out to all parents. We’re asking for their support helping us, to keep kids here and safe.”

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