Latest TikTok challenge causes headaches for schools, including in McHenry County

A viral social media challenge that has spurred a string of vandalism by students is causing headaches for some suburban school leaders.

The latest trend is the “devious licks” challenge that began earlier this month on TikTok. It encourages kids to steal or damage school property and then anonymously share a video or photo of it with the hashtag #deviouslicks.

Nationwide, some students are facing criminal charges for their high-jinks, which include stealing items, such as soap dispensers, fire extinguishers, computers or film projectors, and vandalizing bathrooms.

Though TikTok has removed video content related to the challenge, users have started posting with alternative hashtags and keywords.

Prairie Grove School District 46 is among the suburban districts experiencing the trend and the number of incidents had “increased significantly in recent days, leaving restrooms, in particular, damaged,” Superintendent John Bute said in a letter to families last week.

He reminded families that vandalism and theft at school can result in suspension, expulsion, payment for damage and even criminal charges, and asked parents to speak to their children about the potential consequences of these types of challenges.

Elgin Area School District U-46 has had to replace about 80 soap dispensers at mostly middle and high schools at $15 a pop in the past two weeks.

“Some of the vandals have been caught, and we’ve applied consequences, per our Student Code of Conduct,” spokeswoman Mary Fergus said.

Soap dispensers and mirrors in bathrooms have been the primary targets in Palatine-Schaumburg Township High School District 211 schools.

“We have seen some damage and theft relating to this trend,” district spokeswoman Erin Holmes said. “We have increased supervision in these areas and worked collaboratively with law enforcement. We already have identified and disciplined some students.”

Holmes said students themselves have come forward to report such behavior.

“We are encouraging parents to speak to their student about this topic and make positive decisions,” she added. “Any student caught willfully damaging, stealing or vandalizing school property is subject to suspension and could be arrested on charges of criminal damage to property or theft. The cost to replace damaged or stolen property, as well as the cost of the repair, will be the responsibility of the student.”

At Libertyville-Vernon Hills High School District 128 schools, students have removed batteries from automatic soap dispensers, pulled loose paper towel dispensers from walls, stolen soap dispensers and vandalized toilets.

The district is in the process of assessing the cost of damages and repairs.

Campus safety teams are making more frequent checks of restrooms while administrators are investigating leads, security camera footage, and anonymous tips online, district spokeswoman Mary Todoric said.

“This situation is a reminder that many of our students are facing challenges as they now adapt and transition back to full-time in-person learning,” Todoric said.

Des Plaines Elementary District 62 Superintendent Paul Hertel sent a letter to parents last week asking them to talk to their children about the consequences.

Bathroom signs and soap dispensers have been stolen from district middle schools, and evidence of the vandalism was posted on social media.

“This behavior is unacceptable and simply will not be tolerated,” Hertel wrote.

Students attempting the challenge at school and found to be in violation of the district’s student behavior policy could face disciplinary actions, including an out-of-school suspension, expulsion and police involvement. Moreover, the district might require restitution for any damage to school property, he warned.

Such instances of students acting out also are raising alarms about their mental health stemming from 18 months of pandemic-related social anxiety.

Confusion, stress, frustration, failure and panic are just some of the states students are experiencing, said Ellen Swanson, District 62 assistant superintendent for student services.

“What we are seeing is a spectrum of behaviors for students in preschool through eighth grade, who on a daily basis have more pervasive, more frequent, more intense behaviors than in previous years,” Swanson told the school board Monday.

It’s just the tip of the iceberg, said Huntley High School Principal Marcus Belin.

A lack of social-emotional support during the pandemic has affected students’ level of engagement with peers and understanding of how to interact with each other.

“We’ve been completely disrupted for 18 months,” Belin said. “Now, being in an actual school building, the interactions that students are having, some appropriate some inappropriate, you’re starting to see a lot more social media uptick. This is just going to continue to snowball ... unless we figure out a solution and be able to help and support young people.”

Northwest Herald editor Emily K. Coleman contributed to this report.