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Iowa schools deal with thefts as part of ‘devious licks’ TikTok trend
‘It’s basically vandalism, which doesn’t need to happen in our building’
Soap dispensers, signs, lunch trays and garbage cans are going missing from schools across the country as students follow a TikTok trend that encourages thefts or “devious licks.”
TikTok, a video-sharing social media platform that reported about 100 million monthly active U.S. users in August 2020, according to CNBC, has spawned other trends, including the Renegade dance and delicious tomato and feta pasta sauce.
But the so-called devious licks trend has TikTok users posting videos of them stealing items from their schools or showing stolen items, also known as “licks.” As early posters got millions of likes, others copycatted, exacerbating the destructive trend.
Iowa City West High School isn’t the only school dealing with the trend, but Principal Mitch Gross agreed to answer some questions about what the school has experienced so far this month.
Q: What was the first thing your staff noticed was stolen?
A: “Receptacles in the bathroom. Soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers, toilet paper dispensers. It’s been frustrating because there’s an expectation of privacy in the bathroom, so it’s not like we have adults hanging out in the area.”
Q: When did you hear about the TikTok trend and figure out that was what was going on?
A: “The first day it occurred we put two and two together pretty quickly. Between students talking and staff talking, it became pretty clear. A lot of schools are having some issues with that so it’s not an isolated incident.”
Q: Have you seen any West student posting photos or videos of stolen stuff?
A: “Personally, no, I have not. I’m also not on TikTok either.”
Q: What kind of communications have you had with students about this?
A: “Really, I’ve just said it’s troubling and problematic for several reasons. No. 1, it’s basically vandalism, which doesn’t need to happen in our building. No. 2, it’s putting an extra amount of work on our custodians, who have very difficult jobs. No. 3, it’s an inconvenience because when a soap dispenser gets taken out or a dispenser bag gets spilled all over, we have to close that bathroom and clean it. And fourthly, there’s the cost of replacing all these things.”
Q: What has the response from students been to your messages?
A: “Today, we’ve had a lot of students say they are frustrated this is going on. We’ve had quite a few students say they will be extra vigilant, if they see students doing it, tell them to stop. I’ve been very appreciative of the student response.”
Q: Has anyone been charged with theft or vandalism?
A: “Oh gosh no. You literally have to catch them in the act to catch them. Any student who is caught doing this, the punishment would be the same if it was any other vandalism. A whole range of options from a parent meeting all the way to an in-school suspension.”
Q: Anything stolen that is needed for safety, like fire extinguishers?
A: “No. But I would argue in the middle of a pandemic, if there’s no soap in a bathroom and we’re encouraging people to wash their hands, it’s difficult to do that when the soap keeps getting taken.”
Q: Students have always stolen stuff from schools. How is this different?
A: “The thrill of having it posted. Everything right now is about how many likes you get.” Gross said he’s glad TikTok has removed the #deviouslicks hashtag and is taking down videos that point to the trend.
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