Orlando Sentinel | By Leslie Postal | September 15, 2021
Spurred on by viral TikTok videos, students in Orange and Seminole county public schools pulled soap dispensers off bathroom walls, broke mirrors, clogged toilets and stole school property, mimicking the “devious lick” trend that has afflicted schools across the country.
Middle school principals in Seminole County Public Schools sent messages to parents Tuesday night alerting them to the problem and warning them that students caught taking part would, at a minimum, be suspended and be required to pay restitution for missing or damaged school property. The district’s high school principals planned to do the same Wednesday.
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.
Many of the “devious lick” videos seemed to be jokes, with students only pretending to make off with items stashed in their backpacks. But some students, seeking “likes” for their videos, took action, administrators said.
At Jackson Heights Middle School in Oviedo, the fallout was trashed bathrooms.
“In the last few days, multiple soap dispensers have been taken off of the walls destroyed or stolen, mirrors are broken, trash and trash cans are being thrown into the toilets, red Kool-Aid is being thrown all around restrooms, and general destruction and theft of school property are occurring all in the name of social media,” Principal Sarah Mansur-Blythe wrote in her Tuesday email to parents.
This week, schools from Arizona to Pennsylvania to Virginia witnessed similar problems, newspapers and television stations reported.
TikTok said in an emailed statement Tuesday it was removing “devious licks” content and redirecting videos with that hashtag, and searches for such videos, to its “community guidelines,” which explain that videos depicting illegal activities are prohibited.
“We expect our community to stay safe and create responsibly, and we do not allow content that promotes or enables criminal activities,” the statement said.
Angie Gallo, an Orange County School Board member, said at Tuesday night’s board meeting that the trend hit her county.
“Apparently something going viral on social media on TikTok or Snapchat or what not. Kids are literally stuffing toilets and ripping down soap machines, soap dispensers,” Gallo said.
Principals, she added, are “trying to get a handle on it.”
In Orange, four of 205 campuses have been hit, said Lorena Arias, a district spokesperson, in an email.
Conway Middle School was one, and Principal Joshua Bing sent a recorded message to parents Wednesday, explaining the “challenge” and the consequences to students who are caught “filming themselves stealing or vandalizing school property…in order to brag.”
Bing asked parents for help in preventing “this destructive behavior” and warned students could be suspended or even arrested. “Please know we view this as a very serious offense,” Bing said.
The Lake County school district has had some incidents on its campus, said Sherri Owens, a district spokesperson, though it has not kept track of how many. The Osceola County school district has not, a spokesperson said.
In Seminole, most of the district’s middle and high schools experienced incidents tied to the TikTok videos, said Mike Lawrence, the district’s spokesperson.
Photos of the vandalism taken by district staff showed rolls of paper towels on bathroom floors, a toilet wrenched from its base and pulled out of a stall and a computer keyboard in a urinal, among other incidents. One photo from Lake Mary High School showed a seat top pulled off its base.
“Some of our students may feel this may be ‘cool’ but it is a violation of the student conduct and discipline code as well as a crime,” wrote Principal James Kubis of Milwee Middle School in Longwood in his email to parents.
Kubis wrote that some students already had been identified and faced “suspension and restitution.” He urged parents to speak with their students and help the school stop what is marring otherwise a good start to the 2021-22 school year.
“We want to make sure this trend stops before it gets out of hand,” he added.