On November 10, 2021

Student vandalism, misbehavior addressed

By Curt Peterson

Seniors at Woodstock High School asked the Windsor Central School District (WCSD) board for help with a situation they feel is disruptive and reflects poorly on them and their school at the Nov. 1 district board meeting.

Genevieve Morel, one of three students who represent their peers at WCSD board meetings, said “underclassmen” have been acting out in various ways, including off-campus forays to the Farmers’ Market, disrespecting teachers and staff, seriously vandalizing school bathrooms, stealing teachers’ private property and damaging the campus greenhouse.

Monel said the seniors seem unified in their disapproval of the behavior and called it “really shocking.”

The students asked the board for help in stopping the behavior.

High school principal Garon Smail called the problem “part of the impacts of the Covid era.” Additionally, in the newsletter this week, Smail identified the behavior as part of a “contest” associated with TikTok, the popular social networking app, called “Devious Licks Challenge,” which dares students to post videos of themselves vandalizing their schools, stealing equipment, and committing other brazen acts of dangerous, destructive and sometimes violent disruption.

National sources cite school bathrooms as the most frequent targets for the more extreme vandalism, specifically ripping soap dispensers and signage from the walls, damaging tiles, and creating major messes left to be cleaned up by staff.

Pressured by public opinion, Tik Tok has shut down the Devious Licks Challenge, and removed most of the previously posted entries, although some have shown up on other social media outlets.

At WCUUSD students have taken part in general rule-breaking, such as leaving campus without authorization, demeanor violations such as showing disrespect to faculty and staff, as well as more threatening acts of violent theft and destruction.

Superintendent Sherry Sousa told the Mountain Times the problem is district-wide, although because of the age and number of students in the Middle School/High School building the issue is concentrated there.

“We had an uptick in non-traditional behavior,” Sousa said, “including failure to follow routines, reluctance to follow set structures, and, generally, students at one age level acting out behaviors expected from less mature students.”

She said teachers, who are mentally and physically exhausted in their third year of “pandemic education,” are finding the unexpected behavior disorienting and emotionally discouraging.

Research indicates this is not just a Woodstock problem, and it’s not just an underclassmen issue — CNN reported middle schools, high schools and colleges throughout the U.S. have felt the “Devious Licks” sting, as have schools in other western nations.

Hartford High School biology teacher Roozbeh Nazareh confirmed they, too, have generally experienced “damage from student vandalism, theft of school and teacher property, and non-threatening rule-breaking” by students.

Board member Adam Ameele (Reading), sympathized with the students, but said he doesn’t believe mitigating the “Devious Licks” is the board’s problem. “It’s up to Garon Smail as principal,” Ameele said.

Smail acknowledged the seriousness of the situation, and said he, the faculty and staff, were working with those involved to finding a solution to prevent future recurrences.

Sousa said a small number of students were involved, and have been identified. She is not aware of the details of any consequences imposed on the individual perpetrators, although each has been confronted with their guilt and counseled about the effects of their behavior.

The districts strategy has been to gather all of the students together in campus groups to address the issues as a community.

“They’ve shown a lot of positive energy,” Sousa said. “And the process has been very powerful. The behavior has rapidly declined. The students want a healthy community, are exercising peer pressure, and they understand that accountability goes with bad behavior.”

Smail told the board that investigation was ongoing and a more detailed report was forthcoming.

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