Sure, you can earn $100 to be vaccinated, but now you can earn a reward of up to $2,500 if you provide information leading to the arrest and conviction, or other appropriate discipline, of offenders committing crimes related to recent social media challenges.

Lately, TikTok videos have been wreaking havoc at schools across the nation, including a handful of such malicious incidents in two Rio Rancho middle schools and Cleveland and Rio Rancho high schools.

A nationwide TikTok trend involving students swiping items from schools and then bragging about it in videos online has led to U.S. schools cracking down on the mayhem by boosting security and surveillance.

The Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education held a 51-minute special meeting Sept. 21 to discuss the recent events, and authorized as much as $2,500 to be paid as rewards in attempts to catch and punish guilty students.

As of the Tuesday board meeting, Sal Maniaci, the district’s executive director of safety and security, told the board, “We have been able to catch some of the perpetrators.”

Maniaci said there’s been “no damage at any elementary schools,” but the high schools have incurred “some pretty significant damage.

“It started with (removing or breaking) soap dispensers and got worse,” Maniaci explained. “We’re doing everything we can do on our end to make sure that these situations get prosecuted.”

Replacing the bathroom stall doors that were torn off at Cleveland High has been the most-expensive damage, he said, while RRHS incurred some intentionally clogged toilets. Board members Catherine Cullen and Jeffery Morgan didn’t want to see $2,500 paid as a reward for someone caught and punished for destroying a soap dispenser, but destroyed stall doors would command a larger payout.

On Sept. 15, TikTok announced it was banning “Devious Licks” videos from the platform, saying those videos violated its community guidelines.

Nonetheless, said Maniaci, “We will continue to be diligent.” He said there has been a “decline” since parents received emails about the vandalism.

Ultimately, the parents — as taxpayers — will pay for the damage, in particular the parents whose students are identified as perpetrators.

“Certainly the board is accountable for that money, as is the administration,” Superintendent Sue Cleveland noted. “I do think if we are going to offer rewards, we have to move in a very quick manner and put that information out … and we are pretty thankful that TikTok … put a halt to it.”

The genesis of the problems presented by this latest TikTok video, Cleveland said, is, “… kids have a really great ability to talk about a lot of things and somehow they live in a world where they think (what they see on) social media, somehow the adults in the world don’t ever see that.”

A reward isn’t always needed, board President Amanda Galbraith reasoned, “because sometimes they get caught on camera … and we’re not gonna need a reward then.”

Homecoming is back on

Last week, placating numerous unhappy parents and students, RRPS decided to allow high school Homecoming dances to take place this school year.

Of course, there will be strict safety protocols to reduce the risk of anyone contracting COVID-19. Homecoming dances for Rio Rancho and Cleveland high schools will take place outdoors Saturday and have the same start and end time.

The following will be required for entry to the dances:

• A face mask must be worn — it must meet state Public Education Department face-covering rules found on page 13 of the NMPED COVID-19 Response Toolkit for New Mexico’s Public Schools;

• Temperatures must be checked at entry; anyone with a temperature of 100 degrees or higher will be denied entry;
• All are required to complete a screening survey prior to entering, with a special QR code provided to students by the schools;

• Guests from other schools within or outside of RRPS will not be permitted; and

• All students must have their RRPS student IDs to enter.

• A refund voucher will be issued to anyone who is symptomatic and denied entry to the event after purchasing tickets.

New COVID plan explained

Miriah Affentranger, the district’s student support director, provided COVID-19 case data within the schools, noting changes that must be made internally when a school hits a 3 percent and then a 5 percent infectious rate among its staff and students.

With the district’s daily tracing of new cases, Affentranger said, only three buildings registered more than 1 percent, with 1.8 percent being the highest, as reported at the end of school Sept. 20.

“We’re tracking it; we’re paying attention,” she said. “Our infectious rates are very low in our schools, and we are not seeing the spread in our schools that some people have worried about.”

The district’s new COVID Response Plan, which includes more social practices than the PED requested, is due Oct. 1.

In another matter, the board approved a resolution, discussed but not actually in print, for the area legislators, requesting “competitive salaries” for support staff, which could help attract more workers to the schools — and retain those already working here.

The board’s next meeting is set for Oct. 11 at 5:30 p.m.

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer