RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — TikTok. It’s a video-based social media platform with a little something for everybody, from a cappella sea shanties to trick-shot videos, nature content, happy dogs and so much more. Recently though, something else has cropped up on the platform; school shooting threats.
A nationally circulating viral post on the platform has termed Friday, December 17 ‘National Shoot Up Your School Day.’ This trend has understandably led to concern from school districts around the nation, including right here in South Dakota.
According to James Johns, Captain of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Rapid City Police Department (RCPD), at around 5:30 a.m. Friday the department began investigating a specific post shared by someone in Rapid City that expressed a threat to a ‘North Middle School.’
There is a North Middle School in Rapid City, which prompted the RCPD to take immediate action, tracking down the individual that had shared the post, and working from there to track it to its source. Presenting a particular issue is the name of the school itself. A quick Google search reveals that there are in fact dozens, if not hundreds of ‘North Middle Schools’ in the U.S.
Johns says the RCPD was already aware of the national concern over the TikTok trend and had already allocated resources to area schools. While such a reaction may seem extreme to some, Johns says that the department always takes caution when kids are involved.
Johns says that early on, the RCPD was unable to tell if the threat was credible, and that the FBI was also involved in the investigation. At this point, there does not seem to be an active threat to the Rapid City Area Schools, with the origin of the post being traced to Sioux City Iowa, where police say six students are charged with harassment.
Johns laments the fact that these types of threats are surfacing, saying that this is what social media does. He pointed out that the RCPD already is dealing with issues relating to homelessness and meth use, and that social media shouldn’t be a problem as well.
But it is.
Clearly, police departments in Rapid City and Sioux City have taken these threats seriously, and so did Rapid City Area Schools superintendent Lori Simon, who made the decision this morning to close the district’s schools.
Simon says she was sent a message about the North Middle School TikTok threat a little after 5a.m. She immediately contacted law enforcement.
“At the time when I absolutely needed to make a decision about school today, the information I had from law enforcement at that time was that they were investigating what they perceived could be a credible threat,” said Simon, explaining her reason for closing the district. “It really was out of an abundance of caution for our safety of students and staff.”
Simon also pointed out the problem of trying to determine the veracity of a threat made to a commonly named school. “When they name a specific school, there happens often times to be hundreds of schools with the same name,” she said.
Despite the odds, Simon says they must take all threats seriously.
“Whenever there is a threat made to schools — we must take those matters seriously. We have an ethical obligation to take those matters seriously, work with law enforcement — and take appropriate action to ensure the safety of our students and staff.”
Simon says the trend she’s seeing on TikTok is unsettling.
“We need to start having different levels of conversations and accountability by these social media platforms,” Simon said.
Working in education for the past two decades, Simon says the nature of school threats has evolved.
“When I think back to my early administration days — we received those kind of threats either via word of mouth, or they were scratched on a bathroom stall door — occasionally we would see something in a student’s journal or something along those lines,” she said.
Simon says that’s no longer the case all the time.
“Fast forward to today — almost always these kinds of threats are posted on social media platforms, and as a result that information gets out quickly — that really leads to situations that school districts across the country have been working through the last couple of days in that threats are made that are sometimes very general.”
At the time of writing, no specific acts of school violence have been tied to this TikTok trend.
Asked what she would say to concerned parents in her district, Simon had this to say:
I take all matters of safety and security for our children very, very seriously, and when we receive threats of this nature, we’re always going to take them seriously — I’m going to take the action that I think is needed to keep our students and our staff safe.Dr. Lori Simon