Area schools see spike in vandalism
Incidents seemingly connected to TikTok trend, officials say
Local school district officials are reporting an uptick in vandalism amid a nationwide “devious licks” trend in which students steal and deface items from public schools, particularly in restrooms, then post about it on TikTok.
Due to the locations of the vandalism, police and school officials are having trouble cracking down on students who participate in the trend.
The spree of vandalism — from damaged soap dispensers and air vents to litter and even attempts to pull pipes out of walls — has area school district officials frustrated and working to find a way to make it stop.
Bill Pfeffer, director of the Altoona Area School District police, said officials have yet to catch or charge the vandals.
“It’s a big, big challenge as far as pinpointing due to privacy rules,” Pfeffer said. “We are still trying to identify the suspects.”
In the Hollidaysburg Area School District, vandals have been suspended with charges filed with police. Other county school districts also are taking a hard line in the destruction.
Pfeffer said Altoona Area officials and teachers are attempting to combat the vandalism by monitoring the halls and tracking which students go to which bathrooms via hall passes. He said vandalism will not be tolerated.
“It is a crime, and it needs to stop,” Pfeffer said.
Paula Foreman, AASD community relations director, said a majority of the incidents are occurring in the boys bathroom at the high school and that perpetrators are hard to identify due to a lack of cameras in that area.
Altoona Area High School Principal Andrew Neely said recent incidents can be attributed to the social media trend. The vandalism began “barely a week into the new school year,” he said.
“It is extremely frustrating as a school principal to see the destruction and vandalism,” Neely said. “AAHS just completed an extensive construction and renovation project giving our students a beautiful, state-of-the-art school. To see the facility disrespected is very sad.”
AASD reported that soap dispensers have been ripped off walls, air vents have been kicked in and removed from the bathroom and students have even attempted to rip water pipes out of the wall.
Neely said the damage likely amounts to thousands of dollars.
In addition, Neely said that soap has been “thrown around the bathrooms and all over the floors and paper towels have been littered on the floor and urinated on.”
“Our students need to reflect on what kind of school they want to attend,” he said.
“The only way that we are going to bring the vandalism and destruction to an end is by pulling together as a school community and holding ourselves accountable,” Neely said. “I hope that our parents are having conversations with their children about this senseless vandalism as well.”
In the Hollidaysburg Area School District, Superintendent Robert Gildea said the trend is occurring in the junior and senior high schools.
Jonathan Nihart, HASD physical plant director, said the most common form of vandalism is ripping soap dispensers from the walls.
“Students who have been caught have been suspended, and charges have been filed with the local police,” Gildea said.
To combat the problem, Gildea said the district has increased monitoring of the restrooms and has been forced to close restrooms when vandalism occurs.
Tyrone Area Middle School Principal Shane Cowher said an increase in vandalism in his building is “due to these TikTok challenges.”
“Teachers have tried to limit restroom use to one at a time, and we have set up regular schedules for faculty and staff to check restrooms for vandalism,” Cowher said. “This helps us narrow down a timeframe for the damage so we can catch the perpetrators.”
Cowher said that some students have become frustrated by acts of vandalism.
“Often, this is the No. 1 deterrent because students start to see that these actions are ‘not cool’ or accepted by their peers,” he said.
Superintendent Betsy Baker of the Spring Cove School District reported there have been about half a dozen cases of vandalism so far this school year.
The incidents “appear to be associated with the TikTok bathroom challenge,” Baker said. “Vandalism is considered a serious violation of our Code of Conduct and is addressed as such,” she added.
Williamsburg Community School District Superintendent Lisa Murgas reported that incidents, which she attributes to the TikTok trend, have occurred in the high school, but didn’t provide an exact number.
Murgas said that “additional monitoring is being done and any student caught stealing or destroying school property will be dealt with according to our discipline code.”
Trooper Chris Fox, with the state police at Hollidaysburg, said the department hasn’t had to deal with any of the vandalism incidents yet, but he said that if charges were brought against students, those would typically be theft by unlawful taking, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.
At Altoona, Pfeffer has a warning for those who vandalize school property.
“If you’re caught, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he said. “Have a little bit of pride and be proud of your school. Don’t be part of the problem; be part of the solution.”
Officials from Claysburg-
Kimmel and Bellwood-Antis school districts did not respond to requests for comment.
Mirror Staff Writer Andrew Mollenauer is at 814-946-7428.