CLEVELAND (WJW) – Many local school districts sent alerts to parents ahead of classes Friday, warning them about a TikTok challenge encouraging students to threaten violence against schools.
It led police in some areas to add patrols near schools Friday as law enforcement and districts remained on high alert.
The challenge is the latest in a series of monthly TikTok challenges since the start of the school year that have also encouraged theft and slapping teachers.
Already on guard amid the social media rumors, the Elyria City Schools placed Northwood Middle School on a modified lockdown Friday as police investigated videos circulating that showed students with weapons.
Elyria Police said investigators interviewed the students in the videos, which appeared to be old videos that resurfaced.
School districts said the nationwide TikTok challenge urged students to threaten violence on Dec. 17.
Despite not receiving specific threats, several districts sent messages to parents ahead of the school day.
The Lorain County Sheriff’s Office said it sent deputies to schools Friday morning to provide increased visibility.
“I think kids are looking at these as jokes because they’re coming across these on TikTok, but there’s real consequences and real damage and harm being done,” Capt. Rich Bosley said.
TikTok said in a statement that it’s working with law enforcement to investigate warnings of potential violence. However, the company said it had found no evidence of such threats originating or spreading on the social media platform.
“Social media really, really spreads the anxiety and the fear and oftentimes almost hurts the investigative process,” Ohio School Safety Center Administrator Emily Torok said.
The Ohio School Safety Center told district administrators it had not received any credible threats stemming from the challenge, though tips of threats overall have increased in recent days.
Torok said it’s important for students to share tips of potential violence with school or law enforcement authorities.
“If you have a threat of violence, report it to the right people, get it to your law enforcement, get it to your anonymous reporting systems,” she said.
Child psychologists said threats of school violence, on top of the pandemic, have increased mental health needs among children.
“In general, it’ll create anxiety in the children, it’ll create problems with focus and attention, it will create problems with feeling safe in the school environment,” said Dr. David Miller, Medical Director of Pediatric Integrative Medicine with University Hospitals Connor Whole Health Network.
He urged parents to talk with their children and listen to their concerns.
“That line of communication is the entree into understanding the child’s world in their perspective and then knowing the best ways to address their needs,” Miller said.
Experts underscored the importance of parents and schools reminding kids about the serious consequences of school threats, including potential criminal charges and jail time