20210928-LOC-KHS

Keene High School

Local schools are dealing with a spate of vandalism to begin the academic year, which education officials say is likely linked to a nationwide social-media trend in which students post videos of themselves damaging bathrooms and stealing school property.

“We have experienced an increase in vandalism around the school,” Lisa Spencer, principal of Monadnock Regional Middle/High School in Swanzey Center, said in a recent email. “Unfortunately, when a trend happens, in this case on Tik Tok, we do tend to see this in our schools.”

Spencer added that Monadnock staff members encourage families in the district — which covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy — to talk to their children about the consequences that actions like vandalism and theft can have on the school community.

The so-called “devious licks” challenge, which derives its name from a slang term for theft, has swept through schools across the country since the beginning of September, according to the Associated Press. Students have taken to TikTok, an app that features brief videos, to post clips of themselves committing misdeeds ranging from stealing soap dispensers to smashing bathroom mirrors and sinks, the AP reports. TikTok has since started removing these videos, citing a violation of its user standards.

At Keene High School — which enrolls students from Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson, Stoddard, Sullivan, Surry, Westmoreland and Winchester — the rash of vandalism to begin the year prompted a schoolwide email from Principal Cindy Gallagher last week. Several students have indicated the damage may be linked to the viral video trend, she wrote.

“We have encountered a significant amount of vandalism in our bathrooms in both the High School and Cheshire Career Center,” Gallagher wrote in the message to students and families Sept. 20. “This includes damage to faucets, soap dispensers, and stall walls.”

The vandalism has continued into this week, Gallagher said Monday, and school officials discover new damage “at least once a day.”

“It’s really tragic,” Gallagher said in a phone interview. “People have to have something better to do with their time than damage stuff.”

In response to the uptick in vandalism at KHS and the Career Center — which is located at Keene High and enrolls about 700 students from Keene, Fall Mountain Regional and Monadnock Regional high schools — school leaders have implemented a variety of measures aimed at limiting the damage.

“We’ve added staff to hall duties, locked damaged bathrooms and amended our hall-travel protocols,” Gallagher wrote in her letter. “This is inconvenient to all members of the community. Yet there are a persistent few who continue to vandalize the bathrooms and other parts of the building.”

Moving forward, Gallagher said Keene High and the Career Center are working with their students to help repair the damage, and promote ways to prevent further vandalism. A group of about 25 students — whom Gallagher said organized on their own and without any advertising — is scheduled to meet Thursday with the Keene High dean of students and custodial staff director to discuss ways to address the persistent problem.

“So that’s pretty exciting,” she said. Gallagher added students have begun reporting vandalism quickly, which helps school officials determine who is responsible. When they are able to determine the culprits, school staff work with students one on one to impose appropriate disciplinary measures, Gallagher said.

Conant High School and Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School take a similar approach for issues like vandalism, Principal David Dustin said. For example, he said, school officials recently caught a student damaging several classroom doorknobs.

“So we use any instance like that where we find someone responsible for vandalism to have a conversation with them, look at the costs that that can inflict on the school, things like that,” Dustin said. “And we find that that educational focus, even when it is something that can be more serious like vandalism, can help to prevent that from continuing in the future.”

The Jaffrey-Rindge schools, which share a campus in downtown Jaffrey, have experienced a slight uptick in vandalism, likely the result of the viral social-media trend, he added. The damage, mostly concentrated in bathrooms, started about two weeks ago, but has largely tapered off.

“We’re pretty fortunate,” Dustin said. “Our bathrooms are not huge spaces generally, so they don’t encourage a lot of that gathering that might be part of other schools’ challenges with that. And we’ve increased the amount of times we’ll check into the bathrooms throughout the course of the day and things like that to try and address it.”

Jack Rooney can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1404, or jrooney@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @RooneyReports.