In-person learning returns, along with unsavory behavior

Our first semester back didn’t exactly go smoothly. 

After nearly two years away from school with limited face-to-face interactions, high school students like me across the Bay Area returned to their respective campuses at the beginning of the school year. 

Our first semester back didn’t exactly go smoothly. 

The abrupt transition from online to in-person learning left administrators grappling with an uptick in unsavory behavior. Frankly, it often felt like kids don’t know how to function in social or public settings anymore. 

At my school, Miramonte High School in Orinda, it was hard not to notice an overall air of immaturity pervading the school. 

The “devious licks” trend, which originated on TikTok and entailed people stealing and destroying random property, including but not limited to soap dispensers, water fountains, sinks, and other appliances, was wildly popular here at the beginning of the school year. Though the craze mostly died down, I still sometimes found myself in school bathrooms without a single soap dispenser in sight. It’s obviously tough to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines to wash my hands when there’s no soap. 

While some found the “devious licks” trend entertaining, I and many others felt it reflected a broader disregard for the school staff and everything they had to deal with to keep the school running.

In my capacity as a student journalist, I interviewed people who told me about staff – even experienced teachers – who had gone home crying because students weren’t listening to them — sometimes even cussing them out.

Miramonte wasn’t alone in its rock return from remote, according to other students and teachers I spoke with. At Alhambra High School in Martinez there have been multiple vandalism incidents. In September, a group of students removed the flagpole from the ground and paraded it around the school, ultimately leaving it in front of the office.

“I am not sure how it even happened, because the concrete was still on it,” a Martinez student told me. “Nobody really did anything about it and just recorded it because they thought it was funny.”

I was told similar stories of garbage strewn across table tops and someone who defecated under a stairwell.

Online school may have acted as the substitute for academics, but there were no similar solutions to mitigate social isolation. 

“I think social anxiety is higher for students, especially in high school, because it was so easy to get by with things when you can hide in your black box on Zoom instead of a classroom,” one College Park High School (in Pleasant Hill) student told me.

While there is not a definitive answer as to why students are misbehaving, it’s hard not to interpret some of these incidents as cries for attention. During distance learning, it was harder for teachers to give the one-on-one support that some students needed. Even if they did, it was exclusively through the cold medium of Zoom. It’s entirely possible that students may be acting out now in a bid to feel noticed. 

Ultimately, this increased tendency for bad behavior will likely be shown to have been caused by many different factors working in conjunction with each other. But it’s clear now that a primary focus for schools should be on filling in the socialization gaps left by the extended period of isolation. Each student has different needs that must be considered. In 2022, it will be up to school administrators to support them the best they can as students continue to acclimate to in person learning.

A version of this article first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.