CINCINNATI — An alleged TikTok challenge has prompted an increased police response at schools on Friday around the Tri-State and across the country.
Cincinnati Public Schools issued a statement on its website Thursday, acknowledging a challenge encouraging students to make shooting, bomb or violence threats against schools on Friday, Dec. 17.
WCPO has not been able to independently confirm the challenge, and TikTok announced Thursday it has not found evidence of threats originating on the app.
"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," the app's communications team said on Twitter.
The school district said it will be working directly with Cincinnati police for increased security presence at schools across the district, writing the challenge has not presented any specific threats. CPS said it encourages parents to talk to their kids about the consequences of such actions, which can include disciplinary action with the school, but also with law enforcement.
The Blanchester Local School District is adding increased police presence in advance of the day, but also in light of a gun being found in a student's locker at Blanchester High School Thursday morning. No direct threat was made to the high school and the student, who police described as having "special needs," was not taken into custody.
Forest Hills, Sycamore Schools and Little Miami School District are also adding an increased police presence as a result of the potential threat activity, with each district noting that there were no specific threats made to their districts.
Some parents like Amanda Singer are playing it safe, taking their children out of school amid increased threats.
"I did decide to remove my kids from the school on that day," Singer said. "I mean, given just the United States, recent history, even in the last week, the school shooting that had many warnings, many red flags that were ignored ended up costing some children their lives and other people wounded."
Norwood Schools is also adding increased security presence in partnership with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, the district said in an email. Norwood said they, too, have not received any specific threats and that the police increase is meant to be a "deterrent."
Monroe Police said the department was made aware of possible threats to the Monroe Local School District when students sent in posts threatening an "MHS." Police said the threat was not referencing Monroe High School. The department said it will continue working with Monroe Local Schools to ensure students are safe. Mason City Schools also noted a social media post possibly threatening Mason High School, reporting the threat is not credible. The district will also have increased law enforcement Friday. The district thanked the community on its official Twitter account on Friday for sending 170 posts, screenshots and tips about the threat.
Received 170 @VS_K12 #SafeSchoolsTips tips including screenshots of concerning social media posts. Grateful for community who takes safety seriously, steps up & reports anything that could hurt our Comets & our @imaginemason law enforcement who determined no credible threat. pic.twitter.com/N8XzD5qNrc— Mason City Schools (@MasonSchools) December 17, 2021
Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell addressed the threats on his Facebook page, asking parents to have discussions with their children about school threats and the seriousness of them.
"It is difficult, if not impossible, to determine at the time these statements are made whether they are simply bad 'jokes' or instead credible threats," Fornshell said.
Across the river in Kentucky, Notre Dame Academy in Park Hills wrote a similar-sounding letter, warning of potential, but non-specific threats. The school is working with Park Hills PD to have an increased police presence on campus Friday as well. Campbell County Schools said the district worked with the Alexandria Police Department to investigate one rumor made against Campbell County Middle School, finding no threat exists.
Campbell County Schools Superintendent Dr. David A. Rust called on parents to alert staff of any rumors and speak with their children about the challenge he said attempts to "create a mass student-absence event."
"I would also like to ask that you have a conversation with your child about the seriousness of this TikTok challenge and any other instance encouraging uncivil or dangerous/threatening activity," Rust said in a letter to families.
Forensic psychologist Dr. Kenneth Manges said social media threats are often a way to seek attention.
"I think that people tweet or retweet or copy a TikTok and they see that as a way to join the group," Manges said. "So they may have done that because it is something that they gather attention for likes or they want to share that because it's exciting for them, and it's tragic that they find that as a source of excitement."
The challenge was the most searched-for topic on Google in the United States as of Thursday afternoon, the results of which showed news stories from across the country talking about these same things: Increased police presence at schools about non-specific, potential threats.
Facebook groups full of parents from districts like Anderson Township began filling up with concerns about the TikTok challenge, with many wondering if it is safer to keep their kids home for the day as a precaution. The threats have not been deemed credible by any local police agencies and the reaction has been described as precautionary at many districts.