Courtesy of Carrie MacBrien
A new social media challenge, “Devious Licks,” which emerged in early September on the social media platform TikTok has led to vandalized bathrooms throughout the school.
The trend involves students showing off items from their school that they stole or destroyed. In recent weeks, Midtown students joined the trend. Principal Dr. Betsy Bockman addressed the issue in a Sept. 15 email to students and parents.
“Soap and paper dispensers, sinks, hand dryers and other things are being destroyed,” Dr. Bockman said. “Students are also intentionally flooding restrooms. There has been an incredible amount of graffiti in the boys’ bathrooms as well. These actions violate the District Code of Conduct.”
Soap dispensers, in particular, have been a main target of the vandals, with most bathrooms missing at least one. Students said they have witnessed people stealing soap dispensers off the walls of the bathrooms.
“One of my friends witnessed first-hand [what appeared to be] a freshman or sophomore directly stealing a soap dispenser off of the wall in the bathroom,” senior Max Branch said.
Even when things are replaced, the vandalism continues. Some soap dispensers have been stolen multiple times.
“If we replace a soap dispenser, an hour later it will be torn down again; so, things are happening really quickly,” custodian Aubrey Burton said. “I have replaced this [C200 Hall] three times already, and I’m sure it will happen a couple more times.”
Students said that while the trend might have initially seemed funny, it has become too serious.
“At first, it was funny, but then it got really out of hand,” junior Hayden Hayag said. “Then, seeing the bathrooms defaced and vandalized made a joke go too far.”
The vandalism has become a problem for students using the bathroom, which has implications for hygiene during the pandemic. Assistant Principal Rodney Howard said it is important to alert the administration any time there is anything missing in the bathroom to help keep them well-maintained.
“There have been times when I used the bathroom, and afterwards, there was no soap dispenser in that bathroom,” junior Isaac Perantoni said. “It is frustrating and time-consuming between classes.”
According to the school administration, the issue of vandalism started during the second week of school. However, the level of destruction increased recently.
“This is typical behavior but … it has gotten worse,” Howard said. “We’ve started seeing things out of the norm. I’ve been an assistant principal here since 2010-2011; this is the first [time] I’ve seen this amount, and the severity of it.”
Assistant Principal Carrie MacBrien detailed one of the more severe incidents from about three weeks ago.
“The vandal used what appeared to be a pigment of some kind — a red and orange pigment, not even really a paint,” MacBrien said. “The pigment causes permanent damage; so, even after our amazing maintenance team went in and cleaned it up, it permanently stained the brand new flooring in the boys’ restroom. When I say large scale, I’m talking about the entire wall in the stall [for persons with disabilities].”
The vandalism not only causes problems for students and the maintenance teams, but also the administration and maintenance teams. Cleaning up and replacing destroyed or stolen property requires a significant amount of money and time.
“The vandalism around the school is horrible and disheartening,” Burton said. “It is a lot of work to constantly keep replacing and cleaning these things. There are other things that need to be done, and it’s frustrating when students keep doing these things.”
According to Howard, multiple hours of his day are spent investigating the damage. Dr. Bockman emphasized the impact the vandalism has on the maintenance teams at a district and school level.
“The amount of money and staff time expended to continually repair and replace fixtures and repaint walls and scrape tile is greater than I have ever seen in my 24 years of being a principal,” Dr. Bockman said. “Our school, and district, maintenance teams should not have to spend hours and money repairing damage from our students.”
Staff and students are upset at the vandalism.
“It’s a shame,” math teacher Gina Robinson said. “Just like Dr. Bockman said, it is criminal. This is not our school. Technically, it belongs to Atlanta Public Schools and the taxpayers. You are basically destroying other people’s property.”
Before the start of this year, Midtown underwent a $34 million addition and major renovation, which included many of the bathrooms.
“We are in a brand new renovated building … and this is very disheartening, seeing this type of behavior, rearing its head so early in the year,” Howard said.
Social studies teacher Mary Van Atta worries about Midtown’s already low school spirit.
“As Ms. MacBrien said, ‘This is why we can’t have nice things,’” Van Atta said. “We have a brand new, newly-refurbished school, newly-refreshed school year, and unfortunately, there’s some people who feel like, for whatever reason, they want to take out their frustrations on the school, and it’s really sad because it means that it impacts the school spirit of everyone here on campus.”
“Atlanta Public Schools has had a number of incidents where school property was damaged as a result of vandalism, which may have been encouraged by social media,” the school district said in a statement. “The district will not tolerate illegal activity of any kind on its campuses, and the perpetrators of these crimes and any others will be severely punished in accordance with the student code of conduct.”
However, senior Denzil Mathis said he thinks some students will always act immaturely.
“You can never guarantee that nobody’s going to follow that trend,” Mathis said. “No matter how mature you think somebody is, there’s going to be somebody who’s like ‘I’m going to give this a shot.’ I think those should be punished.”
According to the Code of Conduct, actual punishment will depend on the student’s specific actions. Students will be required to pay for damages and may face different lengths of suspensions for different levels of damage. More extreme actions may require a tribunal hearing. The district may also pursue criminal charges against students who are caught destroying property. An APS spokesman said criminal charge would be destruction of property and the incidents are being investigated.
“This is the turning point of Midtown High School,” Howard said. “We just ask that all students that are responsible for this, it’s time to bring it to an end … before we put an end to it ourselves. We will put down the stiffest consequences we can. But, as a school building, we hope it doesn’t come down to that. We just want our student body to grow up and become mature enough to take care of this nice building that we have here at Midtown High School.”
This story was originally published on The Southerner on September 17, 2021.