FLORIDA, USA — Are your kids freaked out?
It was the question parents, families, and teachers were asking Thursday and Friday after a viral threat that started on the social media app TikTok spread from coast to coast.
School districts nationwide stepped up security at the end of the week as they responded to non-specific threats that seem to have begun as a viral TikTok challenge for kids to skip class. But, that was twisted at some point to appear as a school shooting threat that continued to circulate on social media, according to WJLA.
As of Friday afternoon, Tampa Bay school districts and law enforcement agencies had not reported any incidents but they were aware of the rumors and took steps to investigate the credibility.
In Citrus County, one student was arrested and six others disciplined after investigators followed up on threats specific to schools in the district. No other information was provided.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office had not heard of any threats specific to their schools but a spokesperson pointed to a PSA on the topic of TikTok a few months ago. You can find it here. The sheriff's office warned kids about participating in trends that cause harm to others or property damage.
Responding to online threats and social media posts is nothing new for school districts in Florida.
After the school shooting in Parkland, FortifyFL, a suspicious activity reporting tool was created. It allows you to instantly relay information to appropriate law enforcement agencies and school officials.
Stephen Hegarty with Pasco County Schools says the district still gets many tips from students reporting them directly to teachers and staff.
"What we do every time is work with law enforcement, we investigate it, and we determine whether there’s any credibility. Very often, law enforcement goes out to the home to see if there are weapons or plans on the computer, that sort of thing," said Hegarty.
Many viral posts with nationwide reach tend to be vague and general but can still cause anxiety and fear in a community. It's always best to report a threat and not share it online.
Hegarty says district officials are usually more concerned with specific threats naming schools or individuals within the district.
"Sometimes students face charges because if you make a comment like that and it disrupts the school day, even if you didn’t mean to do any harm, if you do something like that we take it seriously," he said.
Pasco County Schools asked students at one high school not to bring backpacks to school on Friday after receiving a threat overnight.
"That’s one of our strategies, we just tell folks don’t bring backpacks to school because we don’t have metal detectors that would prevent someone from bringing a weapon to school."