Educational leaders across New Hampshire are warning teachers and school staff about a disturbing TikTok challenge urging students to slap teachers while recording it on a video.
School officials across the state and the U.S. are notifying teachers, parents and students of the possible consequences after several students made headlines for assaulting teachers elsewhere in the country.
Megan Tuttle, president of NEA-NH, the state’s largest teachers union, said students may feel emboldened to act out based on the “chaos and vitriol” witnessed at school board meetings across New Hampshire.
“The lack of respect shown at school board meetings is setting a dangerous precedent for students and their perceptions about what’s acceptable in our society,” said Tuttle. “We have seen verbal attacks and threats of physical violence targeted at school board members, educators, and even elected state officials. It appears civil discourse is being replaced by fear and threats of violence.”
In popular videos on TikTok, students from elementary to high school grades have filmed themselves doing everything from dumping soap dispensers (and filling them with feces and urine) to ripping stalls and urinals off walls, actions dubbed “devious licks.”
After stories of bathroom vandalism began being reported across the U.S. in September, TikTok officials said they removed videos tagged with the ‘devious licks’ phrase, though not all appear to have been taken down.
October’s TikTok challenge is allegedly to “slap a teacher,” school officials warn.
State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut spoke to school leaders about the slapping challenge during a virtual meeting last week.
“While many TikTok challenges are harmless, this latest social media dare is highly inappropriate and could create an unsafe situation in our schools,” Edelblut said in a statement. “We are asking that educators be aware of the challenge and, if they feel it is necessary, that administrators communicate with their students about the dangers and potentially serious implications associated with slapping a teacher.”
Tuttle said she urges parents and caregivers to talk to their kids about the serious consequences they could face for such stunts, especially slapping a teacher.
“Threatening and engaging in physical harm is not a joke. We believe there should be zero tolerance for such behavior,” said Tuttle. “Too many devoted education professionals are making the hard decision to leave the work we love because of disrespect and lack of support. We cannot let this continue if we want New Hampshire students to have access to the best education from the best educators.”
NEA-NH Communications Director George Strout said Friday that to date the union hasn’t been made aware of any incidents connected to the October TikTok Challenge from any of its 17,000 members across New Hampshire.
“We have asked members to stay aware of the situation as a precaution, and as always to let their administration and us know if they are assaulted,” said Strout. “We did receive numerous reports of bathroom vandalism connected to the September challenge.”
A middle school student in Braintree, Mass., faces disciplinary measures for allegedly hitting a teacher after being inspired by the challenge, CBS Boston reported last week.
“The most recent TikTok challenge involves ‘slap a teacher,’ and we had our first case in the district today,” the district told parents in a letter, according to CBS Boston. “Please be aware that physically assaulting any staff member in the Braintree schools will immediately result in notification of the Braintree Police Department and significant school-based discipline, up to and including expulsion.”
An elementary school student in South Carolina is facing similar consequences after allegedly assaulting a teacher on Oct. 1 in the Lancaster County School District.
Manchester Education Association President Sue Hannan said the Student Conduct Committee of the Board of School Committee and Manchester police will address any incidents.
“We agree that any student carrying out these challenges will be held responsible,” said Hannan. “Educators will be documenting all cases and bringing them straight to the school administration and the SRO (school resource officer) of the school.”
Hannan said last month’s challenge resulted in vandalism at Manchester schools.
“It is costly to replace soap dispensers across the district, but the safety issue that has arisen is that until those are replaced, many students cannot wash their hands properly after using the bathrooms,” said Hannan. “With the pandemic, washing hands is critical to mitigating the spread of viruses, and the students who committed these crimes have now also put themselves and their school population at risk of contracting diseases.”
A request sent to Manchester school officials last week seeking a dollar estimate of the amount of damage done in city schools last month went unanswered.
Adam Marcoux, president of the Nashua Teachers’ Union, said he’s concerned about the TikTok challenges in general.
“Some may be harmless, but others could put students and staff at risk for injury,” said Marcoux. “My hope is our district continues to not have these kinds of issues.”
TikTok officials condemned any attempts to use the app to promote violence, saying last week any related content posted on its platform would be removed.
“The rumored ‘slap a teacher’ dare is an insult to educators everywhere,” TikTok said in a statement. “And while this is not a trend on TikTok, if at any point it shows up, content will be removed.”