DHS is aware of public reporting that suggests possible threats to schools on December 17, 2021. DHS does not have any information indicating any specific, credible threats to schools but recommends communities remain alert.— Homeland Security (@DHSgov) December 17, 2021
The social media threats had many educators on edge as they circulated in the aftermath of a deadly school shooting in Michigan, which has been followed by numerous copycat threats to schools elsewhere.
In the Houston area, these are the schools that have requested students leave their backpacks at home on Friday.
Not only is Alief ISD asking all middle and high school students not to bring their backpacks, but will also be dismissing students early on Friday, according to the district's website.
The school district said it will have additional security at the campuses.
Out of an abundance of caution, the district is asking all middle/high school students to leave their backpacks at home tomorrow, Friday, Dec. 17.— Alief ISD (@AliefISD) December 17, 2021
We thank you for your cooperation and want to encourage you and your children to please stay alert and report anything suspicious.
Channelview said it was made aware of the TikTok threat that has been circulating and is not allowing students to take a backpack to campus on Friday.
"Police and campus staff are currently investigating and have assigned extra officers to patrol our campuses as a precautionary measure. We take these threats very seriously as the safety of our students and staff is always our top priority," the district wrote.
FORT BEND ISD
As a precaution, Fort Bend ISD is asking all middle school and high school students to leave their backpacks at home on Friday, Dec. 17.
FBISD shared the message on its website, "in wake of several social media sites challenging students nationwide to threaten their schools."
HISD released the following statement regarding the nationwide threat:
The Houston Independent School District 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 tomorrow, Friday, December 17.
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. The HISD Police Department is aware of the post. While we do not believe the threat to be credible, we are closely monitoring the situation and taking it seriously.
Here's how you can help:
If you hear or read about any threat of violence in your child's school, please share the information with school leaders or the HISD Police.
Talk to your child about the importance of letting you know when they learn of any threats of violence at school.
Inform your child that posting threatening language on social media can result in very real and significant consequences.
Supporting the safety and well-being of our students and staff is one of our most important shared responsibilities. By working together, we can help deter these threats and the emotional impact they cause so our schools can continue to focus on education.
Katy ISD said it has not received such a threat, but the district is on alert and "actively monitoring social media and tips for any information that may relate to the challenge and our schools."
"Any student found to be engaged in such activity would face disciplinary consequences in accordance with state and local law enforcement and the Katy ISD Discipline Management and Student Code of Conduct," the district wrote.
Katy ISD is also asking students to leave their backpacks at home out of an abundance of caution.
Lamar CISD has implemented a "no backpack" policy for students from 6th through 12th grade, according to its site. The district is asking parents to make sure students leave their backpacks at home.
LA PORTE ISD
La Porte is asking all middle and high school students leave their backpacks as home on Friday, Dec. 17 amid the nationwide threat.
However, students will need to bring laptops and charges for exams.
Royal ISD is also encouraging students to leave their backpacks at home. In addition, the district wrote that all backpacks will be searched and there will be an increased security measures on all campuses.
"No threat has been made against any of our campuses, however, as a proactive measure WISD is implementing a NO BACKPACK POLICY for Friday, Dec. 17 for all students in grades 6-12. Any student who attends Waller High School, Waller Junior High, or Schultz Junior High will not be allowed to carry a backpack to school tomorrow, Dec. 17, including on a WISD school bus," the district wrote in a statement.
On Thursday afternoon, TikTok wrote in response to the alleged threats that, "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."
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.— TikTokComms (@TikTokComms) December 16, 2021
The app said in a Twitter update later Friday morning that the company had "exhaustively searched for content that promotes violence at schools today, but have still found nothing. What we find are videos discussing this rumor and warning others to stay safe."
1/ Update: we've exhaustively searched for content that promotes violence at schools today, but have still found nothing. What we find are videos discussing this rumor and warning others to stay safe.— TikTokComms (@TikTokComms) December 17, 2021
But why do kids participate in dangerous viral stunts in the first place?
Common Sense Media, an independent organization that says it provides entertainment and technology recommendations for families and schools, suggests peer pressure, fear of missing out (FOMO), and wanting to be the first to try the trends are among the reasons why students want to participate.
While some challenges are harmless, and in most cases, kids just watch on apps and don't get involved, others are more inclined to try it, uploading the video of their results.
Common Sense Media has six tips to help parents talk to their kids.
1. Talk about it: Ask if they've ever thought about doing an online challenge. If you hear hesitation, let your child know it's OK for them to check in with you before participating, the group recommends.
2. Get them to think it through: Help your child think through the challenge and decide if it's safe or has potential risks. Also let kids know that depending on the challenge, there may be legal consequences.
3. Acknowledge peer pressure: Ask your child why they really want to do the challenge and consider how it could affect their future by posting dangerous videos online.
4. Stay up to date: Ask questions about your child's friends, school and trends, and what they would consider trying or not trying. Common Sense Media says to keep an open mind, but intervene if you're concerned.
5. Embrace the good ones: It's not all bad. Some challenges are positive or feel-good dances. Parents can encourage kids to brainstorm their own fun and safe challenges.
6. Model responsible online habits: Some parents, caregivers and other adults are the ones doing the recording for viral challenges. If that's the case for you, think about the message that your involvement sends.
For more tips, try this parents' guide to TikTok.
How should I report suspicious activity?
The Department of Homeland Security says you can report it to local law enforcement or a person of authority using what it calls the "5W's."
- Who did you see
- What did you see
- When you saw it
- Where it occurred
- Why it's suspicious
Every state also has a reporting number. Houston's is 855-iWATCH4.
Of course, if there is an emergency, call 911.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.