Pacifica school restrooms have been vandalized and one student even slapped a staffer in the wake of a new “challenge” that is just the latest challenge for school administrators in the age of social media.

Since the beginning of the school year, posters on TikTok have suggested “challenges” that ask users to respond with video of themselves performing various pranks. The social media company has been removing these posts, but school officials across the country say the trouble continues.

Pacifica School District Superintendent Heather Olsen said there have been issues at her schools.

“Soap and toilet paper dispensers were torn off the walls and damaged, and paper towel dispensers were damaged,” she wrote in an email to the Tribune. ”Another school had toilets clogged as vandalism. In both cases, the damage made the student bathrooms unsafe. Over the weekend, windows were broken at one of the schools.”

Ingrid B. Lacy Middle School Principal Dan Lyttle said the boys bathrooms suffered damage from the September TikTok challenge.

“Students urinated in the soap dispensers that were not broken off the walls,” he wrote in an email to the Tribune. That forced him to shut down all the boys bathrooms. Boys used the bathroom in the main office so they could be supervised. The bathrooms were reopened on a rotating supervisory schedule with no more issues or damages.

“The response from families was amazing,” he wrote. “They offered to post rewards for information, offered to come help repair damage and offered to monitor the hallways to help curb the issues. The continued outpouring of support was felt as I released the list of challenges that were on social media that spanned the entire year. Families were truly upset and willing to stand at the ready to help our school. Our staff has been working to reinforce positive behaviors and to encourage our students to say something if they see something.

Megan Carey, the principal of Terra Nova High School, said TikTok challenges were not a problem, but social media leaves many students with an unhealthy view of their own and others’ bodies.

“We had issues with poor body images, eating disorders and depression with increased social media,” she said. “A lot of that is coming from spending a lot of time on social media instead of developing relationships with friends and families. The media and social media have played a role in that.

“If I had to point to one thing that is truly skyrocketing, it’s been poor body image,” she said.

Jefferson Union High School District Superintendent Toni Presta said in an email to the Tribune, “If a student chooses, and we hope they do not, to physically assault a staff member or any member of the school community, appropriate educational code discipline will be issued from site administration with distinct office support.”

She urged parents and guardians to help remind the students the challenges are against school rules and hinder the schools from providing safe and clean spaces for students and staff.

At Cabrillo School, Principal Annie Flores-Aikey and the new counselor went to each of the sixth- to eighth-grade classrooms to have a proactive conversation about October’s TikTok challenge, Olsen wrote.

“They ended the conversations by reading ‘Better Challenge’ written by a retired teacher. It was well received by the students,” Olsen wrote.

The retired teacher, Tony Garcia, in Colorado, encouraged students to be good and kind human beings. “It takes much more courage to be a loving and caring person than it does to vandalize a bathroom,” he wrote. “It takes strength to stand up for the kid being picked on. It takes fearlessness to genuinely thank your teacher at the end of class. It takes grit and audacity to help the substitute teacher feel welcome. None of that is likely to make you trendy or part of the crowd of a viral sensation. But it is time to buck the trend. To quietly go about the business of influencing a single life for the better.”

Lyttle said IBL students are constantly barraged by social media pressures.

“Bullying and harassment are rampant across multitudes of platforms,” he wrote. “In addition, ‘influencers’ have created unrealistic expectations for our children, specifically around body image. The issue is not unique to a specific gender, although our female students tend to suffer most.

“Then there is the absurdity of TikTok,” he wrote. “The desire to ‘go viral’ drives people of all ages to engage in acts that are unsafe and socially irresponsible, all to garner some sort of fame, no matter how fleeting it may be for them. Social media, in its current unregulated form, is creating substantial challenges for children as well as adults.’

At IBL, staff takes steps to educate students on making choices that are socially and personally responsible.

“We continue to reiterate that, once something is placed on the Internet, it never goes away and can follow you for years,” he wrote. “We would love to have a switch that could turn off social media for our young people but that clearly does not exist. What we can do is foster strong partnerships with our parents and families to help regulate their student’s social media use.”

Jane Northrop has covered Pacifica for the Pacifica Tribune since 1996. She has won first place John Swett Awards from the California Teachers Association for her coverage of education.

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