Searsport wants to regulate teachers' social media use, inside and outside the classroom.
In this Oct. 5, 2021, file photo, the mobile phone app logos for, from left, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are seen on a phone. Credit: Richard Drew / AP

Staff and teachers at Regional School Unit 20 in Searsport may soon have to reconsider their social media usage — in and out of the classroom — as the school board considers a policy to codify parameters for its use.

The proposed policy aims to create a framework to protect students and guide educators on their professional and personal social media usage as online platforms become more and more prevalent as a communication tool.

RSU 20 Superintendent Chris Downing felt it was important to institute a policy with social media becoming more and more prevalent over the years, particularly through the “last couple of presidential elections.”

“It’s part of the time that we live in. Schools now have to be prepared,” Downing said. “Social media … is sort of a creation of what has become the way people place just about everything out there.”

Under the proposal, social media can be used in classrooms only if approved by the administration. That use will be limited to grades seven and up and must be educational. Teachers who use it in the classroom also must monitor student usage, remove inappropriate content and report any incidents to the administration.

The policy also would create parameters for personal social media usage, prohibiting staff from claiming “to represent” any part of the school district. It would limit what staff can post on their personal profiles, but that part of the policy is less clear.

The district also will have to identify what behavior violates the policy as situations arise.

“Hopefully, we never cross it,” Downing said. “There would be a discussion for sure.”

An employee could face discipline up to termination if the policy is violated.

Creation of the policy will be a balancing act between a school district employee’s professional responsibilities and personal rights, Maine School Management Association Executive Director Steve Bailey said.

That’s exactly why this is important to the district.

“[Social media] is one of the most used forms of communication … one of the most controlling factors of people’s everyday lives,” said Tony Bagley, chairperson of the RSU 20 board of directors. “We’ve thought it was best to protect everybody involved and come up with a policy for everybody to follow.”

Students are more “vulnerable” to the pressures of social media, Downing said.

“It’s the responsibility of both staff and the school district to protect our kids,” he said. “And social media is an area in which [for] both students and staff … it can not be good.”

Downing and Bagley said the draft was created based on guidance from Drummond Woodsum law firm and similar policies from about 20 other school districts, including the Bangor School Department. Typically, policies also are written with guidance from the Maine School Management Association. But the association has not yet published a social media policy template.

Bailey said a social media policy has been “under consideration” for quite some time and expects it will be published by Jan. 1, 2023. Other districts will be able to use that in the future to develop policies.

The proposed policy will go before RSU 20’s school board for a second reading at the next meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Searsport District Middle/High School Cafetorium.