Reporting the harmful effects of school vandalism and latest string of graffiti vandalism at school 

Nicole Wu

Staff Writer

     Students have two homes: the one they live at, and the one they learn at. Between studying, schooling, and bonding with friends, students spend seven plus hours at school every day. With a majority of time devoted to school, a clean and aesthetically appealing school campus creates a positive vibe that optimizes learning and promotes happiness. However, with recent incidents of vulgar graffiti and broken property popping up the past few weeks, the once welcoming atmosphere has become uninviting.

     School vandalism involves any form of damage or destruction to school property. School buildings are often targets for acts of vandalism when school is not in session. Ms. Barrington, American High School’s principal, describes the role of timing in vandalism.

     “I think that students are very aware of when schools have a lot of people on them and when they don’t, so it’s a lot easier to target schools when there’s not a lot of people around. I wouldn’t say there is a start and stop [to school vandalism], so much as there are individuals taking advantage of a vacant campus,” she explains.

     With the upcoming winter break, cases of school vandalism tend to increase. Daniel Nava, an American High School custodian, describes how a vacant school serves as an opportune moment for vandals to strike. “The building is empty since no one’s here. No one’s watching the building. There’s no custodians, no teachers, and no students. As a result, there’s a lot more vandalism when the building is unoccupied,” he explains.

     As a result of school vandalism, the campus environment declines. Staff struggle to keep school facilities clean and open for students to use. Ms. Barrington provides examples of school vandalism causing student restriction to facilities.

     “If we have destruction in our bathroom, that impacts student’s access to a number of available bathrooms on campus because we might have to shut it down for a short term or long term. There are regular maintenance issues that happen. If a drain gets backed up, we might have to close the bathroom. If there’s vandalism in another one, then all of a sudden there’s two closed instead of just one.”

      Not only does vandalism impact facility access, it affects students’ learning and education. Rather than optimizing school spending to focus on improving student’s education and purchasing new curriculum resources, school funds are being poured into replacing and fixing damaged school property. 

     Ms. Barrington elaborates on this wasteful situation. “If we are investing time and money in fixing acts of vandalism, then that time and money can’t be spent on instructional services. We could be fixing things that would help students in the classroom. We could be buying new materials, new technology, but instead, we’re spending money buying new toilet paper dispensers or paying hours for someone to work to fix these problems.”

    Emily Paul (10) also explores budget problems that arise from vandalism damages. “It is very expensive and we’re pretty much wasting the money towards fixing something when we could be adding more classes. I do remember we have less funds in certain places of our schools. There are certain classes that are not given funds to provide for students, because we don’t have enough. If we were to fix this problem of school vandalism, then we would have more funds to do other things that are beneficial for students and teachers.”

     Adding on to the impact of vandalism towards students, PE teacher, Mr. Cooper, details how vandalism distracts students and impacts their attention span. “It is a distraction when students draw their attention to vandalism or focus on that instead of the task at hand, whatever that might be during that lesson. It’s evident when you’re maybe walking to and from class or the weight room. Even though it’s only for a short amount of time, it’s still a distraction.” 

     Chinese teacher, Ms. Huang, agrees with Mr. Cooper’s viewpoint and elaborates on this issue. “I think school vandalism affects students’ emotions, upsetting them. Also, graffiti drawings/words are a kind of distraction for students’ learning.”

     Financial consequences of school vandalism burdens the school who continuously put money into vandalism repair and restoration yet experience delays in receiving reimbursement from responsible vandals.

     “If we have an individual who is caught red-handed, or we have evidence of their involvement, then we can request that their family reimburse the school district. There are significant delays in that money coming to us. We also, in the past, have had times when there’s been a criminal prosecution because of the level of vandalism that has occurred, and the courts can order families to pay for reimbursement to the school as well. However, that can take years for us to receive,” says Ms. Barrington.

     The cost of school vandalism is not limited to students. Having to deal with school vandalism interrupts administrators’ busy schedules. Ms. Barrington shares her experience of readjusting schedules to accommodate school vandalism matters. 

     “I have to stop working on something where I might be giving a teacher feedback on their lesson, working with students on upcoming club activities, or helping with the leadership class wanting to bounce ideas off of me for dance. Instead of that, I am scheduling painters or ordering parts,” she remarks.

     Custodians experience a similar setback in their daily tasks. School vandalism beleaguers custodians, and they have to spend extra time to deal with the mess students create.

     Nava exemplifies, “It’s frustrating because it takes time out of our day. It takes time away from other tasks. We could be doing other things like cleaning the school, sweeping floors, or mopping floors. When there’s graffiti, I have to go get the graffiti wipes and drive the golf cart over, and then scrub on it for a while. It’s not that easy for us to get it off. I have to put a little elbow grease into it, and it takes time.”

     Throughout the past few weeks, students and teachers have spotted graffiti vandalism on school property. Most of the graffiti vandalism was limited to the buildings facing the back parking lot. 

     Mr. Cooper can attest to this statement and makes similar observations of the school buildings that were vandalized. “It was almost exclusively in the back of the school where the key facilities are and out by the soccer field equipment area.”

     Mr. Cooper is not the only person who noticed occurrences of graffiti vandalism towards the back of the school. Ms. Huang’s portable classroom, which neighbors the student parking lot, is one of the buildings hit with graffiti vandalism. 

      She goes on to describe what the graffiti entailed. “I saw some graffiti drawings on the window and exterior of the building. On the window, there is a cross. For the graffiti on the exterior, when I noticed it, it was already covered by the paint. I guess someone just randomly drew something.”

     On the same note, students like Paul have spotted the aftermath and cleanup process of school vandalism. “During PE, when we were running the half mile, I noticed the graffiti on the blue shed near the track being cleared up. People brought white paint and were already painting over it, so I couldn’t exactly see what was shown on there, but I’m guessing it’s not something that was appropriate for school,” she recalls.

     Ms. Barrington mentions graffiti vandalism at school isn’t something that commonly occurs. “The graffiti that we had this week was an isolated incident. Every now and then, we’ll have an incident like the one that occurred over Thanksgiving break, in which we had quite a few buildings marked, but those are rare.”

          When graffiti vandalism is spotted, the process of handling the incident involves many aspects. “One of the first things that we do is photograph any characteristics that might be identifying. Sometimes there are names attached to a graffiti, so we would investigate those names. We would want to get it covered as quickly as possible,” Ms. Barrington notes. 

     Multiple staff from different departments have to come together to deal with graffiti vandalism. “We have district maintenance crews that will come out and work to get that covered up and back to its original state. We have the investigation of the activity that occurs from the administrative side. We have conversations with our district staff about security over holiday breaks or long vacant periods,” Ms. Barrington states.

Located in front of American High School’s track and football field, the graffiti vandalism on the rusty, light blue storage container has not been painted over or covered up yet. Daniel Nava points out the substantial costs of cleaning up graffiti vandalism. “It costs the school a lot of money because it’s really expensive to have the painter come out and paint over the graffiti. And it’s not that easy to get them to come out with the schedule because they’re busy doing other tasks.”

     The recent events of school graffiti vandalism can be tied back to the ‘Devious Licks’ TikTok trend and challenge which involved students posting videos showing themselves breaking, stealing, and damaging school property with school bathrooms being hit the hardest. Ms. Barrington explains her thoughts on the impact of ‘Devious Licks’ leading to mistreatment of school property. 

     “When we have a trend of not respecting the school, then that could potentially spread. It’s possible that because the devious licks were so popular at the start of the school year, that set an unfortunate tone for respecting the campus and the school property.” 

     Similarly, Mr. Cooper also recognizes the negative influence of social media and TikTok trends towards student behavior. “Unfortunately most of the social media posts aren’t of any benefit to anyone, and it seems to attract more copycat type behavior. The new trend of devious licks will last just as long as the last one does until the next one pops up. If more students or adults or anybody in between stay off of social media and live life instead of still staring at a computer screen, I think we’d all benefit from that,” he shares. 

     Seeing and understanding the detrimental consequences of vandalism, Mr. Cooper offers words of advice to students to help mitigate school vandalism. “Do not participate. If there’s any word of group activity to do like TikTok devious licks, steer clear of that. It has absolutely no good cause, and it’s very childish and foolish to be involved with any of that stuff.”

     As a teacher, Ms. Huang expresses her reaction to seeing graffiti vandalism. “I feel very upset. Our campus is the place we all share. When I saw graffiti drawings/words on our campus, it was like our house was damaged,” she puts it. 

     While school vandalism is an ongoing issue, students can do their part to inform staff and report incidents of vandalism.”

     Ms. Barrington explains student responsibility in helping to create a conducive environment. “If they do see damage in a classroom, they can let their teacher know. If they see damage in a hallway or anywhere else on campus, then they can let a campus supervisor, a custodian, or administrator know. Any of our staff here are working to make positive change. It is a huge campus, and change in schools is a little bit slow because we have a limited number of maintenance personnel or custodians. Every day that students are taking care of campus, we make the campus a better place to be.” 

     We can do better, Eagles.

The, originally, light blue shed located behind American High School’s track and football field was recently repainted black and blue to cover up inappropriate graffiti vandalism. Ms. Barrington expresses her frustrations with students overlooking the extent of the consequences of school vandalism. “A lot of times students have a short-term vision of the implications of school vandalism. There’s a lot of people involved on the outcome side with the repairs, the cleanup, or the cost. There’s a lot that is involved when, unfortunately, something like graffiti on the walls could take a few seconds, it could take hours or even days of people’s time to fix.”

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