A viral social media trend that purportedly encourages students to destroy school bathrooms and engage in other forms of destructive behavior has made its mark in Nevada County, even as school district administrators say that they are also dealing with a notable surge in physical altercations between students.
The TikTok trend, which has been sweeping schools across the nation in recent weeks, according to NPR, has caused enough damage and disruption at Nevada Union High School that school principal Kelly Rhoden sent out an email earlier this week pleading with students and parents to help put a stop to the trend, which she said has cost the school time and money to address.
“There is a significant uptick in daily destruction to student restrooms and other locations on campus,” Rhoden said in the email. “The issues we face every day in our restrooms are becoming an epidemic after the recent TikTok challenge to destroy school bathrooms were seen on our campus … We are asking parents to have conversations with their student(s) about the issues around negative social media, negative TikTok crazes.”
Students who engage in the TikTok trend typically damage school facilities, most often bathrooms, while using the hashtag “deviouslick” or “deviouslicks“ to gain attention for their actions.
On Wednesday, Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett McFadden said Nevada Union has had to temporarily close numerous bathrooms on campus due to students damaging or destroying installations such as faucets, soap dispensers, mirrors and toilets. While McFadden echoed Rhoden in asking parents for help, he also lambasted TikTok itself for failing to take any significant action to put a stop to the trend.
“I think we have to talk about the irresponsibility of TikTok and other social media outlets in allowing this to go on,” McFadden said, expressing disappointment at what he argued has been a lack of internal accountability on the part of the application’s developers.
“Venues like TikTok are really reaping the rewards of this situation while the rest of us are left to clean up the mess … it’s irresponsible from a public standpoint, because school districts are having to spend taxpayer money to respond to this issue — the question I ask is, where is the accountability on the part of these entities?”
In addition to dealing with damage to facilities resulting from the social media trend, Rhoden and McFadden both said the school district has also seen a recent rise in physical fights between students on campus, mostly at Nevada Union and Silver Springs high schools.
In most cases, these altercations have been successfully deescalated by campus security and school staff, although administrators have had to contact the Sheriff’s Office on multiple occasions, McFadden said.
While declining to go into more specifics on the specific incidents due to concerns regarding student privacy, McFadden said the surge in school fights can be linked to the social isolation students experienced for over a year between 2020-21, when schools statewide were closed due to the pandemic.
“We’ve had an increase in the number of altercations between students in the last two weeks … and really we’re seeing that happen all over state and the nation, as students come back after being gone for more than a year … they’re all relearning how to operate, how to interact, on a high school campus,” McFadden said, noting that many new students in the district are attending in-person high school this semester for the first time as a result of the school shutdowns.
While Bear River High School has been able to avoid the uptick in school fights experienced at Nevada Union and Silver Springs, the school has not been spared from the destruction caused by the TikTok craze, said Principal Chris Roberts.
Like its sister schools, Bear River’s bathrooms have been a scene of chaos in recent weeks, with toilets plugged with paper, soap dispensers destroyed, and restroom walls struck with graffiti, Roberts said, adding that the damage has taken a tremendous toll on the school’s custodial and maintenance staff who have to clean up the mess.
While Bear River, like Nevada Union and Silver Springs, has been able to successfully identify and penalize a number of the student perpetrators behind the damages, Roberts said his administration’s approach to handling such incidents has been to emphasize education and “restorative practices” — making students understand the consequences their actions have while generally avoiding draconian punishments.
One classroom exercise that Roberts said he conducted recently was to ask students how they would feel about a rival high school‘s students coming to Bear River’s campus and destroying or damaging school facilities. The principal said that the response to the question was overwhelming — students uniformly insisted that such actions should meet with the strictest of punishments.
“So then I said, well let’s flip the script — how would you feel about that same question if it was people in our own student body that were doing this? And the whole room got real quiet,” Roberts said. “We agreed that as bad as that kind of behavior would be, it’s that much more disrespectful and disloyal to your school for you to be engaging in those actions.”
Like McFadden, Roberts agreed that the uptick in such destructive behaviors has a lot to do with the social isolation that students experienced as a result of the pandemic. He also agreed with the superintendent that app developers such as TikTok should be taking more accountability for the harm that these trends cause in communities such as Nevada County.
“…It’s extremely irresponsible for (TikTok) to allow this stuff to continue, knowing that it’s a national issue and that it’s causing these kinds of problems,” the principal said.
Punitively, McFadden and Roberts said that some of the students caught engaging in damaging bathrooms had been issued disciplinary warnings or even suspended. Both urged parents to take extra time to monitor their children’s social media use and to not hesitate in talking to their them about social media issues such as the TikTok trends.
At a districtwide level, Roberts said that all of the high schools are holding mandatory advisory periods at least once a week, as part of what the principal called “re-socialization” efforts aimed at re-acclimating students to in-person academic life. As a part of this initiative, Roberts said that Bear River students meet with teachers one-on-one every Monday to discuss not just academic issues but life in general, in an attempt to help students feel included in the overall school community.
“We want to give teachers the opportunity to connect with students on a different level, not purely academic but more social … in these meetings we talk about team building, the impact your actions have on others, and the common good … we’re really taking this stuff to another level,” Roberts said.
Stephen Wyer is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at email@example.com