Des Moines superintendent discusses stress, frustration of nationwide social media threats

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DES MOINES, Iowa — A vague threat of school violence on the social media app TikTok put school districts across the country, including Des Moines Public Schools, on high alert Friday.

Although the threats did not lead to any violent actions within DMPS, Superintendent Tom Ahart said the incident caused the district unnecessary stress and frustration in the days before winter break.

“This just feels like we’re getting close to the straw that will break the camel’s back,” Ahart said. “This was one more challenge that we needed to address that was largely outside of our control.”

Ahart said school security teams and the Des Moines Police Department kept a close eye on schools throughout the day, while other DMPS employees were monitoring activity on TikTok.

He was confident the online threats would not become reality after talking to several other superintendents across the country, but they prepared for the worst-case scenario out of caution.

“It’s difficult because our families understandably get quite concerned, especially on the heels of the deadly shooting in Michigan,” Ahart said.

Ahart said this incident demonstrates the power and wide reach of TikTok within school communities. He believes the app is indirectly responsible for a swath of negative behavior within the district, including fights and a previous nationwide challenge where students were encouraged to steal from their schools.

“While the tools can go a long way in helping us communicate more effectively, used for the wrong purpose, they’re equally effective at taking a small problem and magnifying it,” Ahart said.

Ahart said the National Urban Superintendents Group, which represents superintendents across the country, could try and arrange a meeting with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to express their concerns about the app.

In the meantime, he hopes students and parents realize how much real-world chaos can be caused by improper use of social media.

“Are you paying attention to what’s transpiring on their devices, and are you helping guide that in a productive direction rather than a destructive direction?” Ahart said.

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