With video messaging and conferencing becoming a necessity to achieve distance learning, school leaders are getting an education themselves about how to protect their students and staffs from unwanted visitors. 

Zoombombing. It sounds like a playful term, but it is no laughing matter for superintendents across the state. Especially not after a Bath City Council meeting was disrupted Wednesday evening by pornographic images and profane language from unknown users. 

The video communication platform Zoom has become increasingly popular during the coronavirus pandemic, and was being used by the Bath City Council for a meeting for the first time Wednesday. 

School districts using Zoom are now doing their part to make sure a similar disruption doesn’t happen to them. 

“We are aware of the concerns regarding Zoom and are working with our staff to make them aware of the things they can do to avoid ‘zoombombing’ and other ways for outsiders to interfere,” Auburn School Department Superintendent Katy Grondin said. 

“Platforms such as Zoom and Google Hangouts are important tools for connecting with each other during this time of remote work and learning,” Grondin added. “We want to make sure that they are safe tools and used appropriately.” 

Brian Carrier, technology director for RSU 10 in the Rumford-Mexico area, said his district is “taking as much precaution as possible to ensure Zoom is as safe and secure as possible. 

Carrier said Zoom meeting links in the district aren’t publicized, but are sent out via secure email through the Apptegy software the district uses. 

The district has been using Zoom’s “Enable Waiting Room” feature in addition to password protection, according to Carrier. 

“This allows our users to be placed in a waiting room and I accept users one by one into the meeting,” said Carrier. He acts as a host and technical support for meetings, which allows him to kick someone out of the meeting if needed. “After the meeting starts, and we have who we expected, we don’t allow others to connect.” 

Rick Colpitts, superintendent of the Oxford Hills School District in Paris, said he was recently made aware of zoombombing, and was concerned for a school board meeting scheduled for Monday night via Zoom. 

“My fingers are crossed for tonight as it is too late to reschedule and post the meeting,” Colpitts said. “Our technology director will be with us to assist should something occur.” 

Colpitts said the district is already looking at alternatives for future meetings. 

The district has been using various forms of communication throughout its schools. Colpitts said Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School has been using Zoom, but is moving to Google Classroom and Hangouts. Staff meetings have also been occurring on Zoom. The elementary schools, meanwhile, have used Class Dojo, Google Classroom and Facebook to communicate with students. 

Lewiston schools have also used a variety of ways to interact with students. 

Superintendent Todd Finn called Zoom “a small part of our remote learning plan.” 

Finn said the Lewiston School Department has partnered with technology platform Edgenuity, which he used while serving as a principal in Atlanta, to deliver one-to-one instructional and learning experience for the students. 

“They have access to a video of a teacher, guided and independent practice, and assessments. They can custom build their learning experience so that they can access learning anytime, and any place,” Finn said. 

During this period of distance learning, Lewiston teachers must check in with each student twice a week, according to Finn, and a Zoom conference is one of the ways that can be accomplished. 

Lewiston is letting its students help dictate how that distance learning is done. 

“We do want our students to choose a path, a place, the people they wish to work with and the place where they can comfortably learn,” Finn said. “This does not always entail Zoom, but sometimes it will.”

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