Attack on teacher in US may have been inspired by TikTok challenge, say police

Larrianna Jackson who attends Covington High School in New Orleans, knocked the 64-year-old teacher to the ground and kept hitting her. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM GOOGLE MAPS

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - A Louisiana high school student is facing a felony charge of battery after she punched a teacher several times in a classroom on Wednesday (Oct 6), the authorities said, an attack that was recorded on video and may have been inspired by a TikTok challenge.

The student, Larrianna Jackson, 18, who attends Covington High School located north of New Orleans, knocked the 64-year-old English teacher to the ground and kept hitting her, police said on Thursday.

The teacher, who is disabled and has trouble walking, was released from hospital after being treated for injuries to her arms and head, said Sergeant Edwin Masters, a spokesman for the Covington Police Department. The attack remains under investigation, and additional arrests were expected, police said.

Investigators seized the mobile phones of some students who recorded the attack, according to Sgt Masters, who said that at least one of the videos had been posted on Instagram and Snapchat.

Police were trying to determine if the attack was part of a so-called TikTok challenge, a social media craze among teenagers that critics fear could escalate from recording videos of acts of theft and vandalism to documenting assault.

"The supposed TikTok challenge the month of October was: Slap a teacher," Sgt Masters said. "There's just talk among students and faculty that it may be related to the TikTok challenge."

It was not immediately clear whether Jackson, who continued to be held at the St Tammany Parish Jail on Thursday, had a lawyer. She could face one to five years in jail and a US$5,000 (S$6,790) fine if convicted of the charge, battery of a schoolteacher, authorities said.

In a statement on Thursday, Mr Frank Jabbia, the superintendent of the St Tammany Parish Public Schools, condemned the attack. He said that school officials had not been able to connect the attack to a TikTok challenge, though.

"This attack is disturbing, and so is the fact that other students stood by, recorded it and posted it on social media," Mr Jabbia said.

"The school system is taking the appropriate disciplinary action against all students involved. We don't have any evidence from our investigation that this incident is related to the TikTok challenge, but any acts of violence, including participation in illegal social media trends, will not be tolerated in our school system," he added.

TikTok condemned any efforts to use its app to promote violence and said on Twitter on Wednesday that those types of videos were banned from the platform.

"The rumoured 'slap a teacher' dare is an insult to educators everywhere," TikTok said. "And while this is not a trend on TikTok, if at any point it shows up, content will be removed."

The attack happened around 3.15pm on Wednesday just after the final dismissal bell, Sgt Masters said. Most of the students had already left the classroom when Jackson approached the teacher, who had been sitting at her desk, according to a video taken by another student that was released by the Covington police.

Seconds before the first punch was thrown, someone on the video said, "I'm going to start running". The camera had already been rolling for more than 22 seconds in the video, which included a caption, "this is covington fa ya", with a skull emoji.

The video showed the student, whom the authorities identified as Jackson, punching the teacher several times before the recording stopped.

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