(NEXSTAR) – 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.
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.
Here in Indiana, Fishers police held a town hall Thursday night focused on school threats. During the gathering this latest TikTok trend was also discussed.
“We are already looking through all social media, anything we can to connect any kind of viable threat to any of the schools and as of now, we have not connected any viable threat to any of the schools at this time,” said Fishers Police Chief Ed Gebhart.
“This is a phenomena that’s been recent in the last couple of years with TikTok and other social media avenues, where individuals who have displaced humor, want to instill fear, try to gain power, but these are young minds a lot of times that are doing these things,” said Ryan Taylor, director of staff and student support services at Hamilton Southeastern Schools.
Noblesville Schools released the following statement:
Parents and Staff-
We have recently been made aware of a national TikTok trend regarding threats of school violence on Friday, December 17. There are no threats specific to Noblesville Schools. Schools will be in session tomorrow and as always, our Noblesville Police Department resource officers and safety dogs will be actively monitoring our buildings and operations.
Please take this opportunity to discuss with your children that inappropriate comments, posts or jokes about threats of violence on social media can have serious consequences.
We encourage parents to closely monitor their child’s social media activity and for students to speak with an adult if they see or hear something concerning. Concerns should be reported to the police, school leaders, or through our confidential SpeakUp App (on student iPads).Noblesville Schools
Other central Indiana area responses are below:
“There are social media posts being posted around the country warning of school violence on Dec. 17th. Our investigators have determined that there have been no credible threats made against Greenwood Schools. Out of an abundance of caution there will be additional School Resource Officers on duty tomorrow as well as extra law enforcement patrols around the school properties.”Greenwood Police Department
“We are aware of a social media trend involving TikTok, regarding threats of school violence on Friday, December 17. To be clear, there have been no threats of violence to any Westfield school. School will be in session tomorrow. As usual, Westfield Police Department will have a presence across our district, with all of our schools acting as substations.
Parents, please take time to discuss appropriate online behavior with your children. Any threat of violence can have very serious consequences.
Any immediate safety concerns should be reported to the Westfield Police Department by calling 317-773-1300 or 911.”Westfield Schools
“Washington Township administration has become aware of a troubling post that has been shared widely this week on the social media platform TikTok. The post refers to a threat to school safety “for every school in the USA, even elementary,” on Friday, December 17.MSD Washington Township
The post appears to be part of a national TikTok trend and did not originate in our school district. We have heard reports from other districts that the same post is circulating in their schools. While we do not believe the threat to be credible, we are closely monitoring the situation and taking it seriously.
Additionally, school leaders are working diligently with our Washington Township Police Department regarding the post. We will have an increased police presence in our buildings on Friday as an added precaution.
This situation serves as a good example of why it is important to avoid sharing posts online that refer to school safety threats. Even if they are not credible threats, they can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety for our students, families, and staff. We ask our families to monitor their children’s social media activity and speak with them about proper behavior online.
If you or your child become aware of any potential threat posted to social media or anywhere else, please notify a school staff member or trusted adult right away. As a reminder, our Safe Schools Alert System is available for students, families, and community members to share school safety-related tips.
As always, thank you for your partnership as we work to promote a safe, secure, and positive learning environment for our students.”