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Georgia High School Walks Back Suspension of Student Who Posted Viral Photo of Maskless Students


ihateiceman/twitter; North Paulding High School via Facebook

Update: On Sunday, August 9, North Paulding County Schools Superintendent Brian Otott confirmed that there were at least nine active cases of COVID-19 in North Paulding County High School, which was in the news last week after a photo of an overcrowded hallway filled with maskless students went viral. At least six students and three faculty members are ill. The school will be closed for at least two days to wait on further test results and to deep clean the school building.

On August 5, a photo of a crowded high school hallway in Paulding County, Georgia, that showed hundreds of students shoulder to shoulder and mask-less in between classes, went viral. For naysayers of school reopenings, it was seized upon as the perfect example of why reopening schools while maintaining social distancing would be a nearly impossible task. For the kid who posted the photo, it apparently resulted in being suspended. However, just days after her suspension — and reports in Buzzfeed and The New York Times about that suspension — the kid responsible for the self-described “good trouble” has had her suspension lifted.

15-year-old Hannah Watters initially received a five-day out of school suspension for posting a photo and a video of the over-crowded school on Twitter. After the suspension hit the news, the suspension was lifted and wiped from her record, and the principal called Watters’ mother to tell her she could return to class on Monday. 

According to Buzzfeed News, the North Paulding High School administration suspended not one but two students who posted photos of the crowded and dangerously packed hallways that made national news and forced the district superintendent to release a public statements to parents and to the country about the photo, calling it taken out of context. It’s unclear if the other student, who has remained unnamed, has had their suspension reversed as well.

And, according to another Buzzfeed investigation, students were warned that if they chose not to return to school after the photo went viral that they would be expelled from school. This is after the recent allegations surrounding the school that COVID-19 has already broken out in the building among teachers and among the football team, and that the school had swept the cases under the rug, citing “privacy” of those who are ill, without closing the school down completely for a few days until the full extent of the outbreak is confirmed, which is a CDC-recommended guideline.

One kid who spoke to the outlet said that after his parents saw the photo, they wanted to keep him home from school. So his mom called the school and was told that students who chose not to go to school despite the photos and the concerning COVID-19 situation could be suspended or expelled. Teachers and students in North Paulding have suggested they have no choice but to go to the school building, even after confirmed cases of COVID-19 from a staff member and from some students.

And while Hannah, who never had a mark on her personal record before this week, is probably relieved that she won’t have a record going forward, she is still understandably worried about returning to a school where a rumored outbreak is ongoing and where students are not required to wear masks. “Going back, I’m probably going to be just as nervous as I was the first day of school,” she told The New York Times.