Latest Tik Tok challenge has educators on edge

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Broward, Florida, schoolteachers are bracing for the latest online “Tik Tok challenge,” though some officials think it might be more rumor than reality.

Fresh on the heels of September’s viral challenge encouraging students to steal items or vandalize school bathrooms, the Broward Teacher’s Union sent a note to its members countywide this week warning of October’s follow-up: “Slap a teacher.”

“TikTok challenges … have already cost school districts a lot of money and resulted in student arrests, but they are about to get worse,” Broward Teachers Union Anna Fusco said in a letter addressed to members this week. “Keep an eye out for students who appear to be running toward you or a colleague or for a student with a camera or cell phone readying to take video.”

Viral dares are increasingly common, and sometimes the hype surrounding a trend can be more widespread than the trend itself. The Tide Pod challenge of early 2018 is one example of a meme that started years earlier as a joke but became serious when a handful of teenagers actually started to try it.

Perhaps the best known dare was the Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014, which saw participants raising money for research and treatment of Lou Gehrig’s Disease by posting videos of themselves dumping cold water on their heads. Celebrities, politicians and athletes joined in on the craze, which raised $200 million for the cause.

But the recent Tik Tok challenges, whether they materialize or not, represent a threat that schools are taking seriously. Last week, South Florida school districts posted videos and emails accompanied by robocalls encouraging parents to talk to their children about responsible use of social media, and warning of legal consequences for those who take up the “slap a teacher” challenge.

“Anyone that participates and gets caught can be arrested and potentially recommended for expulsion,” Coral Glades High School Principal Mark Kaplan said in an e-mail to staff obtained by the Sun Sentinel. “I will never allow this sort of behavior to go unpunished.”

Kaplan’s warning came with a caveat — “We have no corroboration of whether or not this is something that will be attempted,” he wrote. “My hope is that our students are smarter than that.”