(NEXSTAR/WAVY) – Law enforcement and schools nationwide are on high alert amid an apparent TikTok trend threatening violence nationwide on Friday.
Authorities and school administrators in several states say they have been made aware of a social media challenge encouraging students to bring weapons to school on Dec. 17. So far, police departments and school districts are calling the threat unfounded.
The York County School Division, Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools, Northampton Schools, Southampton County Schools, Virginia Beach City Public Schools, Gloucester County Schools, Norfolk Police Department, Newport News Public Schools, Currituck and Dare County Schools also put out a warning about the challenge.
The divisions said their respective law enforcement agencies are aware of the information circulating on TikTok. The divisions said they didn’t believe any threats were toward their schools specifically, but said they’d monitor the situation closely.
The divisions said classes would continue as planned on Friday, but with extra safety measures in place.
YCSD posted on social media Thursday: “I want to assure you YCSD and YPSO will take appropriate action for any posts or comments that threaten YCSD schools, students and staff. The division has extensive safety and security procedures in place in all our schools on a daily basis and you may notice an increased presence from YPSO on and around our campuses tomorrow. Additionally, staff members will be available to speak with students throughout the day if needed. These measures will be in place to reaffirm to our students, staff, families and community that safety is our top priority.”
According to statements from schools and police departments in multiple states across the country, the posts to TikTok and other social media platforms have not originated in their communities and do not refer to specific schools but are instead part of a “nationwide trend.”
TikTok released a statement Thursday which reads, “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.”
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen a trend of reposting messages that have no relation to our city, area or schools and many of the threats end up being hoaxes. Please take this time to talk to your child about being responsible on social media and not sharing these threats or warnings, even as a precaution,” Chief Ashley Gonzalez with the Austin Independent School District Police Department wrote in a Thursday statement.
Other districts and law enforcement agencies are also encouraging parents to talk to their children about the threats. It can be a difficult conversation, but the American Psychological Association offers a few tips on how to go about it.
First, they suggest leading with listening. You may want to start out by asking your child what they’ve heard about what’s going on at school. You should answer your children’s questions honestly, suggests the APA, while making sure they know they are safe.
“Parents should acknowledge to children that bad things do happen, but also reassure them with the information that many people are working to keep them safe, including their parents, teachers and local police,” says the APA.
If your child has any information on a threat, be sure to share that information with law enforcement. In many cases, that can be done anonymously.
Finally, the APA tells parents to keep an eye out for warning signs their kids may need additional help.
“Such indicators could be a change in the child’s school performance, changes in relationships with peers and teachers, excessive worry, school refusal, sleeplessness, nightmares, headaches or stomachaches, or loss of interest in activities that the child used to enjoy.”
Making false threats of terrorism is a crime that can carry long prison sentences in many states. Parents may want to emphasize the consequences of spreading such rumors with their children.
As a precaution, some schools like Gilroy High School in California have canceled classes for Friday. Others like Academy District 20 in Colorado Springs and Granite High School in Salt Lake City will have an increased police presence during the day, according to local reports.