Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at the Sun Sentinel.
South Florida students are heading into school bathrooms to break sinks, mirrors and urinals. They are ripping the soap and sanitizer dispensers from the walls, all in a bid for social media stardom.
The students record these acts of vandalism and challenge others to do so on the social media app TikTok.
The Palm Beach County School District was so alarmed with this so-called “devious lick” challenge over the past week that Monday it sent a note to parents.
“This vandalism, which in most cases targets student restrooms, has resulted in an inconvenience for students needing to use the bathrooms, an unnecessary expense for the district, and extra work for our custodians who are working harder than ever to keep our restrooms clean and stocked with supplies,” the letter says.
“It’s important for students to understand that vandalism constitutes a serious crime. School Police are investigating each case,” the letter continues. “Students responsible for this type of destructive activity may face criminal charges and discipline as outlined in the Student Code of Conduct. Parents and guardians may also be responsible for financial restitution.”
Julie Triste, a spokeswoman for the school district, refused to provide answers as to how widespread the problem is. The Broward County School District said it too was having a problem with students destroying school property, but also did not provide the South Florida Sun Sentinel with details.
The incidents started after a TikTok user on Sept. 1 posted a video showing a box of supposedly stolen face masks hidden in a backpack, according to the Know Your Meme website, which analyzed how the trend took off. The video was captioned “only a month into school and got this absolute devious lick.”
That was followed on Sept. 6 by another TikTok user’s video showing a supposedly stolen hand sanitizer dispenser hidden in a backpack, the website said. That video, using a similar “devious lick” caption, got more than 7 million views in two days — and other users then began posting their videos seemingly showing other purloined school items, from paper towel holders to signs to computers.
The Palm Beach County district’s note also encourages parents to speak to their children about the serious consequences of such acts of vandalism, and it advised parents of a parental controls feature on TikTok. Called Family Pairing, the feature lets parents link to their child’s account to their own account to manage how children use the video-sharing app. TikTok’s official minimum age is 13.
This isn’t just a South Florida issue. It is happening coast-to-coast.
The Los Angeles Times reported recently that in Fresno County students have damaged about $20,000 in property. It said the school district is now paying bus drivers overtime to monitor the bathrooms, which drastically reduced the vandalism.
TikTok, the paper reported, has been trying to discourage the bad behavior by removing the devious licks hashtags and redirecting TikTok users to the company’s statement on criminal activity.
Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel contributed to this report.
Eileen Kelley can be reached at 772-925-9193 or ekelley@sunsentinel..com. Follow on Twitter @reporterkell.