Arts & Culture News

TikTok's 'Slap a Teacher' Challenge Sparks Hypervigilance in Local Schools

New TikTok challenges are putting North Texas schools on high alert.
New TikTok challenges are putting North Texas schools on high alert. Aaron Weiss/Unsplash
Local school districts are on high alert after TikTok’s “Devious Licks” challenge, which encouraged students to steal or vandalize school property and post a recording of the act on TikTok. The trend resulted in over $15,000 in damages to school property, prompting a call from Dallas Independent School District to the FBI.

As a result of the challenge, North Texas schools reported stolen goods ranging from soap dispensers to water fountains. The trend peaked in popularity in mid-September, until TikTok banned hashtags associated with the challenge.

The Devious Licks challenge was far from the first TikTok trend to worry parents and irritate just about everyone else. In August, TikTokers began a stream of online idiocracy with the “Milk Crate” challenge, in which participants built pyramids composed of milk crates (peaking at seven crates high) and filmed themselves hastily climbing to the top. Countless injuries were reported as a result.

Word of a new challenge is worrying school officials. The alleged “Slap a Teacher” challenge has been dubbed October’s challenge of the month on the social media platform. The #slapateacher challenge calls for students to record themselves slapping a teacher on the back of their head and running off before being seen.

As the hashtag began to circulate on social media, administrators went into overdrive to prevent it from making headway.

Lily Salazar, a Denton ISD middle school mother, says that as a result of these social media challenges, Navo Middle School has resorted to stricter hallway policies .

“Discipline starts in the home, but some parents say they can’t control what their kids do at the school and that it’s the school's fault for not having discipline expectations,” Salazar says.

New policies at Navo Middle School include having students revert to elementary school hallway etiquette, such as walking the halls with their hands behind their backs.

Salazar says parents have compared the new policy to treating children as prisoners.

“Walking with their hands behind their backs is taking them back to elementary school, not prison,” Carrie Fisher Stephens, Navo Middle School's director of theater, and school parent, said in a Navo Middle School parent Facebook group. “Keep in mind that some of these 6th graders have not had a ‘normal’ year of school since 3rd grade. The school is trying to go back to the basics and to their level.”

Some hashtags and challenges are often social media hoaxes that don't correspond to any active trends. Recently, alarmed parents posted photos of social media posts calling for a #bringaguntoschool challenge, but it didn't take off among students.

TikTok is trying to get ahead of any destructive trends by banning challenges such as “Slap a Teacher” related hashtags before they gain traction.

On Oct. 6, TikTok said the challenge is not allowed on the platform and is “an insult to educators everywhere," and that any videos published aligning with the Slap a Teacher challenge will be removed per TikTok guidelines.

“Walking with their hands behind their backs is taking them back to elementary school, not prison.” - Navo Middle School teacher Carrie Fisher Stephens

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In lieu of videos of students assaulting teachers, searches for #slapateacher now result in a compilation of teacher’s satiric warnings to students against participating in the challenge.

Carrollton Farmers Branch ISD’s Polk Middle School has taken a different avenue to tackle insubordination.

As a way to counter the viral trends, Polk Middle School’s principal, Kelly O’Sullivan, initiated the #LeadTheWayChallenge and recruited the Advancement Via Independent Determination (AVID) student group to exemplify the efforts.

The #LeadTheWayChallenge aims to promote a positive school culture through acts of kindness. Each month a different student organization like AVID is responsible for keeping the trend thriving in schools, and the acts of kindness are shared in the student newspaper and announcements.

“The challenge has helped with classroom discussions during restorative time and with behavior in and outside of the classroom,” Natalia Dobbs, Polk Middle School AVID teacher, said in a press release. “It has helped inspire more acts of kindness.”

On Oct. 1, instead of inaugurating the “Slap a Teacher” challenge, Polk Middle School celebrated National Custodians Day by educating students on their impact on custodians' workload and encouraging them to show gratitude by practicing cleanliness.

“Our head custodian said during lunch, ‘This was the best day of my life,’” Dobbs said in the press release. “We would love to see other schools in the district and across the globe take on the #LeadTheWayChallenge.”
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Desiree Gutierrez is a music and culture intern at the Dallas Observer. Equipped with her education from Dallas College Brookhaven Campus and the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism, Desiree has transformed the ability to overthink just about anything into a budding career in journalism.