ROCKLAND, Maine — The principal of Oceanside Middle School has apologized for profane statements he made on his Facebook page about his disdain for President Donald Trump and the president’s supporters.
The posts from principal Bill Gifford were widely circulated among the Regional School Unit 13 community, and alarmed parents who felt the tone he struck set a bad example for students on how to engage in political discourse.
As the nation awaits the results of a pivotal presidential election, Gifford is the second Maine school official this week to come under fire for making disparaging remarks about Trump and his supporters on social media. On Wednesday, the chair of the Regional School Unit 71 school board resigned after making profane posts about Trump supporters on Facebook on election night.
The response school officials received from the posts underscores the backlash that can arise when leaders in non-partisan positions publicly share their political beliefs.
“The school should facilitate a safe space for students to explore and understand issues in the world and allow them to come to their own reasoned opinions and conclusions without the faculty tainting that process with their own hate or biases,” Steve Spearin, the parent of a current and former Oceanside Middle School student, said.
In one post, Gifford said that he didn’t acknowledge Trump as his president and considers Trump “possibly the worst president ever.” He referred to the president’s supporters as “trolls” and “asswipes.”
In a second post, Gifford said Trump supporters drive “big trucks” but have small genitalia.
As of Thursday, it appeared that Gifford had deleted his Facebook page. The controversial posts were published on Monday, but screenshots of the posts were shared with the Bangor Daily News.
Regional School Unit 13 Superintendent John McDonald would not comment on the matter Thursday.
Gifford issued an apology to RSU 13 parents on Wednesday, in which he said, “My mistake was to include profanity and for that I am truly sorry and hope that the community can accept this heartfelt apology.
“It is a great privilege to hold a leadership position and help guide our youth to realize their full potential. With this great privilege, I realize that I have the responsibility to ensure that I demonstrate effective ways to communicate, even when I disagree, in a way that ensures a productive and respectful dialogue,” Gifford said.
However, Gifford’s apology fell short for some parents.
“I believe that thinking we can hold the principal to a lower standard than the students are held to is inexcusable,” Spearin said. “If a student had said those things in that manner, an apology of ‘I’m sorry you heard me say it’ — no matter how nicely worded — would not be acceptable.”
By disparaging the president and his supporters, Spearin said that Gifford took aim at RSU 13 students and families that might support Trump.
Oceanside Middle School serves students from six Knox County towns. While former Vice President Joe Biden carried the county with 58 percent of votes, Trump received just more than 38 percent of the votes from Knox County.
“I am gravely concerned that the views Mr. Gifford expressed are reflective of the way he interacts with his students,” Spearin said. “I am also worried that my children may face negative repercussions if they express anything contrary to those views.”
RSU 13 does have a social media policy in place for employees, however it largely focuses on school officials using social media for school-related proposes. When it comes to personal use of social media, the policy states that”employees are expected to exhibit professional decorum on social media and shall not engage in conduct which distracts from or disrupts the educational process of students or the operations of the schools.”