There are many troubling layers to the viral photos of a Georgia school’s reopening this week
After a photo showing students piled inside a crowded hallway — many of them not wearing masks — went viral this week, a Georgia school is responding to the public shaming they’ve received as a result. The photos, which were widely circulated on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, shows the halls of North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia. The school appears to be operating at full capacity with no social distancing precautions to be seen.
According to an in-depth report published by Buzzfeed News, North Paulding High School reopened Monday. There was a recent outbreak of COVID-19 among members of the football team, and many teachers say there have been several positive test results among school staff — though the school won’t confirm coronavirus infections among employees due to privacy reasons.
This is the first day of school in Paulding County, Georgia. pic.twitter.com/fzdidaAABM
— 🇯🇲Black🇭🇹 Aziz 🇳🇬aNANsi🇹🇹 (@Freeyourmindkid) August 4, 2020
Unfortunately, the student who shared the images that went viral, Hannah Watters, has been suspended for five days for sharing the photos online. The New York Times reports that her mother reported a grievance with the school over the punishment. Brian Otott, the superintendent of the Paulding County School District, doubled down on his school’s reopening plan, explaining that he believes the photos were taken out of context.
“There is no question that the photo does not look good,” he admitted in a letter addressed to the school community. But he claims the school is adhering to the recommendations put in place by the Georgia Department of Education. He explains that with 2,000 students attending the high school, class changes are going to be a “challenge.” Masks are not currently a requirement at the school.
Day two at North Paulding High School. It is just as bad. We were stopped because it was jammed. We are close enough to the point where I got pushed multiple go to second block. This is not ok. Not to mention the 10% mask rate. pic.twitter.com/JKbGYqG9RS
— hannah (@ihateiceman) August 4, 2020
“Wearing a mask is a personal choice, and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them,” he continues in the letter. “What we will do is continue to strongly encourage all students and staff to wear masks.”
A simple Google search, however, shows that according to the Paulding County School District Parent and Student Guide, the school administration absolutely has control over the dress code: “The school administration reserves the right to alter the dress code for special occasions or extracurricular activities.”
If a pandemic isn’t considered a “special occasion,” what is? Or perhaps those rules only apply to girls wearing tank tops or short skirts to school.
Watters explained this morning that her suspension has been lifted and thanked people for supporting her throughout the ordeal.
This morning my school called and they have deleted my suspension. To everyone supporting me, I can’t thank you enough. If I’m not responding it’s because my life has been somewhat crazy the past few days. Once again thank you. ❤️
— hannah (@ihateiceman) August 7, 2020
Watters quoted Representative John Lewis to CNN in explaining her actions. “I’d like to say this is some good and necessary trouble. My biggest concern is not only about me being safe, it’s about everyone being safe, because behind every teacher, student and staff member there is a family, there are friends, and I would just want to keep everyone safe.”
According to Buzzfeed, a second student was also suspended for sharing a photo but didn’t want to be named.
Logan Boss, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Public Health’s northwest district, which includes Paulding County, tells the Times the agency offers advice about preventative measures to control the spread of the coronavirus, but mandates and rules fall on each school’s shoulders.
“Each school system makes its own decisions.”