School districts both local and across the nation were on high alert on Friday, December 17 after anonymous threats of violence circulated on TikTok, a popular social media network, leading some schools to cancel classes, while others saw parents keeping their kids home.
Officials in the Kingston City School District (KSCD), Saugerties Central School District (SCSD) and Onteora Central School District (OCSD) posted messages to their websites earlier in the week notifying the community of the social media post, which though it’s unclear of the origin threatened “every school in the USA, even elementary.”
“Out of an abundance of caution, we are increasing our security and supervision at all of our school buildings and working closely with local law enforcement,” read the pop-up post on the splash page of the official KCSD website, a tact taken by most other school districts as well.
During a meeting of the New Paltz Central School District Board of Education held on Wednesday, December 15, New Paltz Police Chief Robert Lucchesi addressed the TikTok threat, which had by then reached parents via Facebook and other social media sites. Lucchesi said that district administrators work closely with police whenever a potential threat is revealed to ensure the safety of students and faculty.
Other districts engaged in similar conversations with law enforcement.
“Out of an abundance of caution, the district has been in contact with the Saugerties Police Department and our School Resource Officer regarding the (TikTok) post,” read a letter from Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt posted to the SCSD website on Thursday, December 16. “It is possible that there may be an increased police presence on or around our campus on Friday as an added precaution, so please do not be alarmed.”
In a pop-up post on their website, the OCSD also said they’d been in contact with local law enforcement.
“Based on their initial investigation we do not believe the threat to be credible,” read the OCSD post. “However, we are closely monitoring the situation and taking it seriously.”
In his post to the SCSD community, Reinhardt said even without a legitimate threat occurring, there can still be an impact in local schools.
“All threats are treated seriously until deemed otherwise,” he said. “Even if they are not credible threats, they can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety for our students, families and staff.”
To explain why it was important to take any threat seriously, school officials locally and across the U.S. pointed toward a recent social media challenge trend. In September, students across the country responded to a “devious licks” challenge by sharing videos of themselves vandalizing school bathrooms; in October, the challenge escalated to daring students to slap a teacher, which led the National Education Association to demand that social media companies like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to intercede.
In addition to the social media challenges, school districts and parents pointed toward the November 30 school shooting at Oxford High School in Oxford Township, Michigan where a sophomore gunman killed four people and injured seven to explain heightened tensions.
TikTok released a statement on Twitter last week addressing the threats posted to its own social media network.
“We handle even rumored threats with utmost seriousness, which is why we’re working with law enforcement to look into warnings about potential violence at schools even though we have not found evidence of such threats originating or spreading via TikTok,” read the statement.
Locally, school officials were also seeking assistance from within their communities.
“It would be helpful for parents and guardians to ask the students in their household if they have seen these types of threats on social media, including TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat, and you are encouraged to alert us to any perceived dangers seen,” read the KCSD post. “Threats against schools across the nation have been seen on these platforms. While no one is able to predict with 100 percent certainty what may or may not happen, working together will enable us to address concerns as they arise.”
Other districts also asked parents to stay engaged in how their children used social media.
“We ask our families to monitor their children’s social media activity and speak with them about proper behavior online,” Reinhardt wrote. “If you or your child become aware of any potential threat posted to social media or anywhere else, please notify a school staff member or trusted adult right away.”
Ultimately, the TikTok challenge did not lead to any school shootings or bombings last Friday. But it did reveal how seriously school districts, parents and law enforcement take those threats.