Schools and Teachers Warn Parents of New 'Slap a Teacher' TikTok Challenge: 'Criminal Behavior'
School districts and teachers are raising the alarm about a new TikTok trend — and issuing a warning about the serious consequences students could face for participating in the challenge.
Believed to be linked with the "Devious Lick" challenge, which involves students stealing or damaging school property, the "Slap a Teacher" challenge encourages students to slap school employees, without being caught in the action, and then post videos documenting the assault on TikTok, according to Missouri news station KYTV.
So far, two school districts have reported attacks on employees.
A teacher in Springfield, Missouri, was slapped by a student taking part in the challenge, KYTV reported on Tuesday. Additionally, a South Carolina elementary school student assaulted "a teacher by striking her in the back of the head," according to a letter to parents shared on Oct. 1.
"This type of behavior just like theft and destruction of property is not a prank. It's criminal behavior," Lancaster County School District director Bryan Vaughn wrote in the letter, going on to note that "assault on a staff member is an expellable offense which means the student is removed from the school for the rest of the year."
"We share this information with parents so you can educate your kids on the issue and monitor their social media habits. We also hope parents will speak with their kids about the serious repercussions of making poor decisions and peer pressure," Vaughn added.
Additional information about the students involved has not been released, although KYTV reported that school police were involved in the response to the incident in Missouri.
One video posted on TikTok also addressed the risk of expulsion for any students who may participate in the challenge.
"Good morning students. I hear today is the first day of the slap a teacher challenge," one TikTok user said in a video posted on Oct. 1, according to the Los Angeles Times. "I just wanted to reach out to those of you who plan to participate, and I wanted to wish you a great last day of school. Because after you slap a teacher, you'll most likely be expelled. Well anyways, get out there and learn something you little rascals. Have a great day!"
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A TikTok spokesperson tells PEOPLE in a statement that "this alleged 'challenge' would violate our policies and we would aggressively remove such content."
"But the reality is that we have not found related content on our platform, and most people appear to be learning about the offline dare from sources other than TikTok," the spokesperson says.
The California Teachers Association posted their own warning this week.
"Educators beware! As if widespread vandalism in our schools last month wasn't enough, the same 'challenge' circulating on social media networks TikTok and Twitter is now calling for students to 'slap a staff member,' " they wrote.
Although noting that the challenge is "not sponsored or authorized by TikTok" and " doesn't yet to appear to have caught on widely," they wrote that "it is important to be aware that students here in California may be coerced by social media or their peers to participate."
"In addition to potential serious harm to victims, a student perpetrator could face serious consequences, including expulsion or criminal prosecution," they added, encouraging parents to "have conversations with their children about the serious consequences that participating in any activity such as this challenge could bring."
A similar message from Florida's Broward Teachers Union encouraged teachers to "watch your fellow educators' backs" and to report any incidents to the authorities, according to ABC station WPLG.
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Connecticut Attorney General William Tong has called on TikTok to "commit to reforms that stop this reckless content."
"Families and educators are already coping with the unprecedented social and emotional fallout of the pandemic. The last thing anyone needs right now is for children to be inundated by targeted social media encouraging lawlessness, self-harm and reckless, dangerous pranks," Tong wrote in a letter addressed to the company's CEO, Shou Zi Chew.
While Tong wrote that he appreciated the steps TikTok has made to "identify and remove 'Devious Licks' content from its platform," he wrote that "it should not take a nationwide school vandalism spree for TikTok to act."
"With new reports of the 'Slap a Teacher' challenge, it is clear that TikTok is unable to control the spread of harmful content. Simply put, whatever TikTok has been doing to enforce its terms of service has not been working and merits serious review and reform," Tong continued. "I respectfully request that you come to Connecticut to meet parents, educators and myself to hear firsthand the impact your business has had on our communities, and to share with us what more you will do to protect our youth."
Following the spread of the "Devious Lick" challenge last month, TikTok responded by removing videos and redirecting hashtags and search results to their Community Guidelines page.
Additionally, TikTok has created a guide for parents, co-developed with National PTA, outlining ways for parents to help make sure their children are being "responsible and safe."