School officials across the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire are warning parents of the dangers of a social media challenge gone viral that encourages students to destroy and steal school property.
Known as the “devious licks” challenge, the viral trend popularized on TikTok has hit Haverhill and Methuen Public Schools, along with schools in Salem, New Hampshire, officials there said this week.
In an email to staff, Haverhill Superintendent Margaret Marotta referenced a Wednesday USA TODAY article describing how students challenge one another to film themselves “stealing school supplies — everything from soap dispensers and toilets to computers and film projectors, as well as other school equipment.”
The challenge’s name, “licks,” refers to thefts or robbery, the article noted. The phrase was popularized in a 2019 song called “Momma I Hit A Lick” by 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar. Many TikTok videos featuring the “devious licks” challenge, however, include a sample of rapper Lil B’s song “Ski Ski Basedgod.”
According to USA TODAY, restrooms are primary targets for participants of the “devious licks” craze, with mirrors, sinks, urinals, ceiling tiles and toilet stall doors and dividers among the items being stolen and displayed in videos on social media.
The TikTok platform this week removed content related to the “devious licks” trend and redirected content using related hashtags to its community guidelines page to “discourage such behavior,” the company said in a statement.
According to Marotta, challenge-related vandalism has included a soap dispenser being ripped from the wall of a restroom at Haverhill High and a toilet overflowing at the Hunking School as the result of someone stuffing school materials into that toilet.
Marotta said she has alerted school principals of the problem and has asked them to check their restrooms frequently. Haverhill High Principal Jason Meland said four of the school’s eight restrooms were closed Thursday, with the open restrooms monitored for vandalism.
“The issue is that kids are not just doing it, but are taking videos of it and posting them on TikTok,” Marotta said of the social media platform that allows users to post short video clips, often with music in the background. Kwong did not comment on challenge-related vandalism in Methuen but said that school officials became aware of the trend after “a few” students vandalized school property this week.
Salem Superintendent Maura Palmer said that district also noticed the trend this week when “a couple of items went missing from the middle school and high school,” she said in a statement. There was also damage to soap dispensers that was suspected to be connected to the challenge.
School officials urged teachers to speak to their students about the negative consequences of this type of behavior and sent letters to parents asking them to speak to their children about this issue.
“We will continue to remind students of our...expectations which include being safe, respectful, and responsible for their actions,” Woodbury School Principal Matthew Barry said in an email to families. “Although the majority of our students are not involved in this behavior, this is a reminder of the influence social media can have on our students.”
In Haverhill and Methuen, Marotta and Kwong said consequences for participating in such behavior may include paying restitution for damage or stolen property and/or possible criminal charges. In Haverhill, Marotta said students may also be asked to report to school on Saturday as a possible punishment.
According to Haverhill Deputy Chief Stephen Doherty and Interim Methuen Chief Randy Haggar, students could be criminally charged with defacing property or malicious destruction of property (over or under $1,200) or larceny (over or under $1,200).
“We are trying not to criminalize (this issue), but kids need to know it is unacceptable,” Marotta said.
School resource officers are stationed at buildings in both cities as is standard practice. Any issues in either district will be referred to police if and when necessary.
According to Marotta, school resource officers are stationed full-time at Haverhill High School and part-time at the middle schools. Three full-time Methuen police officers plus a supervisor are assigned to the school resources division and share five schools, including Methuen High School, Haggar said. Kwong urged parents to stay vigilant to keep children safe at school.
“I thank you for your partnership in working with all of our students in creating a safe environment that is conducive to learning,” she said in an email to families Thursday. “Working together, we can help our students make good decisions that will not disrupt school.”
Dr. Gregg Gilligan, superintendent of North Andover Public Schools, said the district hasn’t had any challenge-related incidents, adding, however, “We have become aware this is taking place in other communities and the principals are taking steps” to address the issue with parents.
Similar steps are in place in Lawrence, said public schools spokesman Chris Markuns, who added that no such incidents have been reported.
Reporters Mike LaBella, Will Broaddus and Breanna Edelstein contributed to this story.