AUSTIN (KXAN) — Trash strewn on bathroom floors, soap dispensers ripped off, destroyed plumbing: It’s a scene becoming familiar to Central Texas school district leaders.
This week, AISD’s Lively Middle School principal Stacie Holiday sent a letter to families, saying they’ve been dealing with the “TikTok bathroom challenge” for the last two weeks.
The “Devious Lick” challenge also encourages vandalizing and stealing school property. On Wednesday, TikTok announced it’s removing related content and redirecting hashtags and search results.
But school leaders are still dealing with the aftermath.
Holiday says most middle schools in Austin Independent School District have reported similar cases and they’ve been able to catch “a majority of students.” The district has contacted those parents and issued consequences.
“Repeat offenders will have severe consequences that go beyond community service, detention, phone calls home, suspensions and apology letters,” Holiday added. “Criminal mischief is a criminal offense and students found committing these acts could face jail time.”
Holiday says it’s forced them to close restrooms periodically for cleaning and repairs. An AISD spokesperson says damage at that school is estimated at around $2,500.
KXAN also got ahold of an email from Kealing Middle School, informing parents of destruction in bathrooms.
Leander ISD reports at least two schools hit by the trend: Vandergrift High School and Leander Middle School.
In a message to parents on Thursday, LMS’ principal says they have fixed the soap dispensers and will reopen all bathrooms on Friday.
Previously, the bathrooms were not open during passing periods, and students had to leave their backpacks in the classroom.
Vandergrift principal Charlie Little said a handful of students were responsible for vandalism at their school.
“Clearly, causing damage to the very restroom you personally access, requiring the tax entity that your parents and community support to repair, is a poor decision,” Little wrote in a school newsletter.
Little said the school is short seven custodians, but they are working to clean and repair bathrooms quickly in order to reopen them. Little says at least three full bathrooms are still open in one building.
“Walking in after it, to see things ripped off the wall and, you know, urinals and soap dispensers. I mean, that’s strange to him,” said Michele Francis, whose son goes to Cedar Park High School.
Round Rock ISD confirms it has also closed some restrooms for cleaning and repairs due to vandalism it believes is a result of the TikTok trend.
“Any student caught destroying or stealing campus property will face campus disciplinary action, which is assessed on a case by case basis and may include campus consequences like suspension and alternative learning placement, and depending on the circumstances, may face legal consequences,” a spokesperson wrote to KXAN.
In a message to parents Thursday, McNeil High School principal Amanda Johnson says their teacher shortage is making it difficult to stop these incidents.
“I have been an administrator for 13 years and an educator for 21. In my seven years as a campus principal, I have never started a school year with teacher vacancies,” she explained. “This year, however, we still have three teachers, three hall monitors and one parking lot/security vacancies that we work daily to fill.”
Hays CISD told KXAN it’s dealing with “several incidents at some of our secondary schools” and are working with school resource officers on investigations.
A spokesperson says they typically refer offenses to law enforcement and in these cases, the offenses may be theft or criminal mischief.
“If an arrest or detention is made, we would request restitution for the loss the district incurred,” said Jeri Skrocki, director of safety and security. She added so far, they haven’t had any arrests or detentions.
Why do harmful and criminal trends tend to go viral?
Natalie Brown-Devlin is a professor at the University of Texas’ School of Advertising and Public Relations. She says there are two factors behind many of these viral trends: The first being TikTok’s young user-base.
“We know that brains aren’t fully formed until they’re 25. We know that teenagers, in particular, use the emotional side of their brains to make decisions, instead of the rational side,” she said.
Brown-Devlin says each view, like and comment triggers a feel-good brain chemical.
“When we look at TikTok as a platform, it’s a seamless hit of dopamine,” she explained.
She says the second factor behind viral TikToks is the platform itself. Its algorithm doesn’t prioritize accounts with lots of followers or previous likes — anyone can get millions of views.
“So for teenagers who are incentivized to try to get those numbers of likes, who want to go viral, posting content and engaging in challenges like this is essentially like them buying a lottery ticket and hoping today is the day that they win, breakthrough, and go viral,” Brown-Devlin said.
She says recent data suggests people are spending more hours a month on TikTok than they are on YouTube, and it’s a good idea to encourage kids to take breaks from those ‘dopamine hits.’