AUSTIN (KXAN) — With Austin ISD students back in session, so, too are concerns about possible classroom distractions, courtesy TikTok trends.
Last year, area schools responded to a handful of TikTok trends that disrupted daily learning. In September, Round Rock ISD officials reported more than $15,000 in damages due to the “Devious Lick” challenge, where students were dared to steal from and vandalize schools and post a recording of it online.
In October, Austin ISD officials confirmed to KXAN one incident of the “slap a teacher” challenge had happened within the district. Later in December, Austin ISD dismissed a substitute teacher from campus after he brought in a karaoke machine and performed a rendition of Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” On the substitute’s TikTok account, he said he had a goal of subbing in all 50 states.
With the start of the 2022-23 school year underway, officials told KXAN Monday they’re aware of the constant movements of trends on the popular app, but added the district is working to make sure it’s got a finger on the pulse of what trends might be coming next.
“TikTok trends, of course, come and go,” Interim Superintendent Dr. Anthony Mays told KXAN. “We were talking [earlier] about the Takis challenge, where the kids have to eat as many Takis as they can.”
While some can be more harmless than others, Mays stressed the district will be investigating perceived threats to see whether or not it’s a hoax.
“Once we conduct the investigation, we can go about finding the root and the source, and taking the necessary steps to address whatever problems could be on the other end of the investigation,” he said. “Each TikTok challenge is different.”
While some TikTok challenges can bring a bit of levity, others that encourage violence, vandalism or other disruptions won’t be tolerated within the district, said Jason Stanford, Austin ISD’s chief of communications and community engagement.
“I don’t know what we can do to combat it, but to say we should treat each other kindly,” Stanford said. “TikTok challenges often take the form of bullying, which we don’t tolerate here.”
He added Austin ISD’s in-house police department will continue to focus its efforts on protecting kids, both physically and from potentially dangerous virtual trends. As part of Austin ISD’s student code of conduct, its anti-bullying policy reads in part:
Bullying of a student could occur by physical contact or through electronic means and may include hazing, threats, taunting, teasing, confinement, assault, demands for money, destruction of property, theft of valued possessions, name calling, rumor spreading, or ostracism.Austin ISD 2022-23 Student Code of Conduct
Amid waves of challenges impacting schools nationally, TikTok announced last November it had updated its community guidelines to try and redress harmful challenges and hoaxes making the rounds on its app. This led to the development of TikTok’s challenges explainer (and disclaimer) as part of its Safety Center.
TikTok’s community guidelines prohibit dangerous challenges, with the tech company saying it’ll investigate challenges with perceived threats if reported.
“Although it may seem daunting, having conversations with teens about online challenges is really important,” TikTok’s online challenges explainer reads in part. “Most teens have seen online challenges and many have taken part, so telling them all challenges are dangerous won’t ring true. Instead, let them know you get they may be curious about online challenges and you’re open to talking, listening and learning with them.”