A viral TikTok challenge is making a mockery of the dangers of infection and causing a headache for school cleaning and maintenance staff.
Called “devious licks”, the trend sees middle-school, high-school and even college students vandalize school property, particularly washrooms, and post their results, which include graffiti, stolen urinals, smashed floor tiles, broken faucets, and missing soap dispensers.
Digital anthropologist Giles Crouch told CTV News that the trend has spread from the U.S. and is now being seen all across Canada. He said students likely see it as a prank rather than vandalism that can cause health and hygiene risks. “They are more concerned about getting social acceptance,” he added.
In B.C., The Chilliwack School District told Global News that 42 soap dispensers have gone missing as of September 16. “Unfortunately, this is occurring at a time when there is a worldwide supply issue, partly due to this trend and partly due to supply issues around plastic,” the district said in a statement. “It is therefore difficult to replace all of the missing dispensers.”
The District’s Gerry Slykhuis told City News: “There’s certainly a significant labour cost involved in each of these as well as the frustration, because our maintenance staff are already really busy and it’s a waste of their time to have to do these very unproductive tasks when they could be fixing things they’d like to get fixed.”
North Vancouver’s school district also said it has seen a rise in these incidents. “Soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers and signage have been forcibly removed from walls, wall mirrors have been damaged, and a number of classroom-based items have been stolen,” Brad Baker, the district principal, said in a letter. “As we have shared with our school district community throughout COVID-19, the health and safety of our students and staff are a priority. When soap dispensers and paper towel dispensers, which are necessary to facilitate good hand hygiene, are removed from bathrooms, and particularly, single-stall bathrooms, bathroom spaces become unusable.”
The trend is also being seen on the east coast of Canada. “Soap dispensers coming out of the walls,” said Reign Sherrington, the brother of a Halifax-area student, per CTV News. “I heard at Halifax West High School, they had sinks coming out of the walls.
In response, some schools in the U.S., such as two middle schools in Ohio, have tried to prevent damage by locking washrooms and monitoring their use for large portions of the school day. North Vancouver’s Baker suggested that students and staff should expect reduced bathroom access while the district waits for replacements and supplies to arrive.
However, while school counsellors and child psychologists have shown sympathy to school custodial staff, they have warned that restricting washroom use is not only harmful to students’ health but also punishes all students for the actions of a few.
Recognizing the toll this is having on cleaning staff at educational facilities, who are already under pressure like many of their colleagues in other facilities at a time when proper handwashing is a critical component of facilities’ efforts to remain open during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, some equipment manufacturers are stepping up to help.
GP PRO, a division of Georgia-Pacific, has announced it is providing replacement dispensers at no cost to schools that have suffered as a result of the TikTok challenge. Schools interested in receiving this offer can contact GP PRO until September 30, at 1-866-435-5647 or online.
“Schools have been through so much over the past 18 months and are doing all they can to provide a safe and healthy learning environment now that students and staff are back to in-person learning. This defacing of school property, particularly property that is so important to health and hygiene, is just really the last thing they need to be dealing with,” said Julie Howard, vice president and general manager of GP PRO’s towel, skincare.
“We want schools that have been affected by this unfortunate trend to know that we have their backs. We are ready and willing to take care of their dispenser issues so they can remain focused on educating our students during these challenging times.