BERRYVILLE — Clarke County Public Schools officials are trying to determine who damaged restrooms at Johnson-Williams Middle School and Clarke County High School, apparently inspired by online videos.

Damages to sink handles, soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers and toilet stall doors have occurred at the schools, division Superintendent Chuck Bishop wrote in an email to The Winchester Star.

Videos posted in recent weeks on TikTok, a social media app popular with teenagers, show students stealing or vandalizing restroom equipment, including plumbing fixtures and soap dispensers. The incidents occurred worldwide, but mostly in the United States.

Bishop said he believes the damage at J-WMS and CCHS stems from students wanting to imitate those videos.

Students generally are well-behaved, Bishop said. Yet there always is some damage to school property each year, he said.

Evidently, "the TikTok challenge raised it to a new level" this year, he added.

As of last week, handles on seven restroom sinks at J-WMS had been broken. The style of the sink required not only the handles, but also plastic cartridges, to be replaced, Bishop said. The materials have been ordered, he said.

At least one sink in each affected restroom has remained usable, he said.

Because of the damages, new soap dispensers also were ordered, Bishop said. They were installed last Monday and are being checked twice daily, he said.

No equipment has been removed from any restrooms in the county's four public schools, Bishop continued.

"In addition to soap and water in restrooms, we do have hand sanitizer available throughout all of our buildings," he said.

However, the schools are feeling the effects of supply and distribution problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Materials are not always readily available from suppliers," said Bishop.

When materials are received, "our maintenance staff and our custodial contractor are doing everything in their power to keep up with repairs," he said.

Despite the use of video surveillance equipment, specific individuals who damaged equipment have not yet been identified, Bishop said. Times when the damages occurred also have not been determined, he said.

Amid staff limitations, "it is difficult to catch those who are choosing to vandalize school property," Bishop admitted.

"Bathrooms are not constantly monitored every minute of the day," he said. "We also do not have a staff member who sits and monitors our camera system all day."

Anyone found to be responsible for the damages may be suspended from school and required to pay restitution, Bishop said. They also could face criminal charges pertaining to destruction of property, he said.

Damages totaling more than $1,000 can result in felony charges, according to state code.

As classes have resumed five days a week while the pandemic continues, the school division has done everything possible to make sure that students, employees and visitors feel safe and comfortable in its buildings, Bishop said.

That includes encouraging good hygiene such as washing their hands frequently.

But "it is extremely difficult to make this a priority," he said, "when some of the individuals you are trying to protect are the ones who are vandalizing property." e task.

Last month, officials from Frederick County Public Schools and Winchester Public Schools reported similar incidents at some of their schools.

— Contact Mickey Powell at mpowell@winchesterstar.com

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