Several school systems in Maine are reporting vandalism linked to a national trend of students destroying school property and posting about it on social media.

School officials in Old Orchard Beach, Bangor, Freeport, and School Administrative District 51 in Cumberland and North Yarmouth say vandalism or thefts appear to be linked to a trend among users of the popular video-posting site TikTok. While TikTok has taken steps to block the “Devious Licks” trend and remove the posts, many videos were viewed millions of times before being taken down and schools across the country have reported vandalism ranging from the theft of hand sanitizer to the destruction of bathroom stalls. Some schools have closed bathrooms because of the vandalism.

At Greely High School in Cumberland, vandals stole soap dispensers, damaged ventilation vents, ripped plates off restroom doors, disabled paper towel dispensers or removed all paper towels, and made off with fire extinguishers.

SAD 51 Superintendent Jeff Porter wrote in an email that the TikTok challenge “was the reason for the vandalism” and that students frustrated with the conditions of the damaged bathrooms helped identify potential suspects, who now face potential suspension and/or criminal charges.

“In a year where the pandemic is still a concern, lack of access to soap and paper towels is even more of a problem right now,” Porter wrote on an SAD 51 blog on Wednesday. “Thankfully, students came forward and helped to identify at least one person responsible for this vandalism, who is now being held accountable by both the school and police.”

Porter estimated the damage will cost “a few hundred” dollars to repair.

At Bangor High School, four soap dispensers, one large hand sanitizer dispenser and several signs disappeared during the first several weeks of school, with some ending up displayed on TikTok, said Ray Phinney, the school safety and communications director for the Bangor School Department.

Bangor High School officials responded by speaking to suspected students and also by announcing over the intercom that items had gone missing in order to make it clear the issue was on the school’s radar. Phinney said he was not aware of any punishments being doled out and that there had been no thefts this week.

“We’ve had some conversations with students and let them know that taking things is against the student conduct code, that it is not advisable, and items have been returned to us,” Phinney said.

There also has been one incident related to the “Devious Licks” challenge at Old Orchard Beach High School, but it didn’t result in extensive damage or closed bathrooms, said John Suttie, the school principal and superintendent of RSU 23.

Suttie said that on Sept. 10, a soap dispenser was removed from the wall of a boys’ bathroom. With cameras positioned right outside of the bathroom, it was easy to figure out who was involved, he said.

“It was a weird situation because it was a student you would never think would do something like that,” Suttie said. “The motivator was the Devious Licks TikTok thing that was going around,” although Suttie added that he was unsure if the student actually posted a video of it to TikTok.

Suttie said the student took responsibility for his actions and the soap dispenser was promptly reinstalled. At class meetings last week, Suttie talked to students about the cameras around the school and his hope that this would be an isolated incident.

“We have really, really nice kids here in Old Orchard Beach,” he said. “Something like that has never happened before.”

At RSU 5 in Freeport, school officials said they have been unable to stop the vandalism and have had to close some of the bathrooms at the high school.

“At our school, students have been ripping soap dispensers off the wall and putting them in the toilets,” Principal Jen Gulko said in an email to parents. “They have been writing on the walls, countertops and floors. We are disappointed to say the least, as we feel like this type of behavior does not represent the vast majority of our students. Despite our best efforts, we have not been able to stop it. So we have decided to leave only a few bathrooms open at least until the end of this week.”

According to a report in The New York Times, the trend appears to have begun on Sept. 1 when a TikTok user posted a video of himself pulling a box of disposable masks from his backpack that he apparently took from school and referring to the theft as an “absolutely devious lick.”

Similar videos and reports of school vandalism began popping up from around the country, ranging from small thefts to major property destruction. In Minneapolis, school administrators increased security and surveillance while locking student bathrooms during classes, according to a report on CBS News. Other schools across the nation also have locked or limited access to restrooms.

A spokeswoman for Portland Public Schools said some schools had vandalism this year but that the district hadn’t linked it to the TikTok trend. Portland did not answer specific questions about vandalism or whether schools have closed restrooms in response.

“Most years we have instances of vandalism in our school bathrooms and this year is no different,” Tess Nacelewicz said in a statement on behalf of the school district. “We do not know whether there are more this year or whether they can be attributed to any social media platform. We will continue to make our expectations known to students and those who do not meet those expectations will be subject to the appropriate disciplinary actions.”

Staff Writers Gillian Graham and Rachel Ohm contributed to this report.


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