School damage tied to TikTok

Watertown High School, 1335 Washington St., as seen from the W.T. Wiley Intermediate School campus. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Bathroom vandalism is among the latest TikTok challenges, and local schools haven’t been spared.

Watertown City School District Superintendent Patricia B. LaBarr and Norwood-Norfolk Central School Superintendent James M. Cruikshank have sent out notices about the vandalism they are experiencing in their school bathrooms.

“I was very irritated and I didn’t know where to turn because there was a challenge,” Mrs. LaBarr said. “I’ve been following the trend around the state. There are bathrooms at other school districts that have been completely destroyed.”

She said her daughter works in a Rochester school district, where bathrooms have been destroyed, including toilet flushing sensors.

“If you follow this trend around the country, there are some bathrooms that have been completely destroyed, whereas ours, it’s been mainly the soap dispensers that have been ripped off the walls,” she said. “Sometimes these kids get going and they see these videos and then there’s a challenge. I guess I would call it a challenge for them.”

Mrs. LaBarr said she’d rather see challenges that urge students to “pay it forward.”

“You do something kind or you rake your neighbor’s leaves or you do something nice for your elderly neighbor or whatever. But that’s not what’s happening,” she said. “Nothing good comes out of it, so that’s why I actually put something out. It started at our high school and then I noticed at our middle school we started having some issues.”

Ripping off a soap dispenser comes at a time when hand washing is stressed because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Hand washing has always been important. It’s one of the things that we really stress right now with COVID — to make sure you wash your hands frequently,” Mrs. LaBarr said. “It’s good healthy practice for anything, for germs, period. It’s a good practice to get into. So that’s why I put something out last night. It’s not just COVID time. We’re approaching flu season.”

While cameras aren’t located in bathrooms, there are cameras in the hallways that could possibly help identify students who might be doing the damage.

“Even though there are no cameras in the bathroom for privacy reasons, there are cameras in the hallway,” she said.

Teachers are also doing periodic bathroom checks, which could help determine when the damage was done. Cameras could then be checked for that time period. In addition, students leave their backpacks in their classrooms when they go to the bathrooms, which takes away an avenue to hide the soap dispensers.

In her letter to parents and guardians, Mrs. LaBarr asked for their assistance in stopping the damage.

“We are asking for your help in putting an immediate stop to this behavior,” she wrote. “When we catch individuals responsible for vandalism, we will be enforcing our student code of conduct and any related consequences, which could include suspensions. Theft of school property could result in prosecution from the law.”

However, she noted, “The majority of the kids are doing a great job.”

At Norwood-Norfolk, Mr. Cruikshank addressed his concerns in his latest board of education update from Sept. 17.

“During this past week of school we’ve seen some destruction in our bathrooms,” he wrote. “This has been connected to a TikTok challenge where students video themselves breaking something in the bathroom. We obviously don’t have cameras in the bathrooms, so catching the vandals is more difficult. Please, talk with your children and remind them that Flyers are proud, strong and respectful. This TikTok challenge does not exemplify Flyer Pride. And, we will catch the vandals.”

Mr. Cruikshank said he was soliciting the support of parents and guardians to “nip it in the bud.”

“I felt it’s best to partner with moms and dads and guardians to really have a collective voice in the community to say this is not appropriate anywhere,” he said. “I think moms and dads have a strong voice with their children and should have that right to know what’s going on and what we’re hearing and help us put a stop to it.”

There haven’t been many instances, and those that have occurred are being addressed, he said.

“We knew it was a matter of time before we would catch up to the instigators of that action because our schools are so heavily monitored by video, not inside the bathrooms, but the hallways certainly,” Mr. Cruikshank said. “So we believe we’ve kind of mitigated that. We have been addressing it, we are addressing it, and we just felt the best way to truly get to the heart of it is to partner with moms and dads.”

He said the majority of the students disapprove of what’s happening.

“We really feel a sense of pride in our school and our students feel that sense of pride,” he said. “For the majority of students, this is a deplorable act. After talking with many students, they were ashamed of some of the behaviors. We pride ourselves on having students with strong character, honesty, respect and civility and our students were talking to us saying, ‘this isn’t cool.’”

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