A teenager who was suspended after posting pictures on social media criticizing her high school’s reopening has had her suspension lifted.
Hannah Watters posted pictures of her high school’s reopening which depicted scenes of crowded hallways with little social distancing and few students wearing masks. The pictures quickly went viral. Soon after posting them, Watters was suspended from North Paulding High School (NPHS) in Dallas, Georgia, for violating the school code of conduct which prohibits students from posting on social media during school hours or recording videos of minors. Her suspension was later revoked following her family’s complaints.
“Not only did they open, but they have not been safe,” stated Watters about her school’s reopening plans. While Watters says she understands why she was punished, she does not regret her actions. “I’d like to say this is some good and necessary trouble,” commented Watters, utilizing a phrase from representative and civil rights icon John Lewis.
Following the incident, the principal of NPHS warned students over the school intercom not to copy Watters’ behavior. The Superintendent of Paulding County School District, Brian Otott, wrote a letter to the community stating that the pictures were taken out of context. He defended the school’s actions, noting that all staff members were issued masks and that the school was taking precautions in compliance with the Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH).
However, Otott maintained that “wearing a mask is a personal choice and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them.” He additionally cited evidence from the GDPH that it takes 15 minutes to transmit COVID-19 between people less than 6-feet apart; arguing that in light of this evidence, hallways presented a limited risk. However, according to one source, Otott omitted information indicating that COVID-19 could be spread at a faster rate through coughing.
Although Paulding County offered an online-only option for students, more than 20,000 of the district’s 31,000 students opted for in-person instruction. However, many students cited a lack of computer access and missing the deadline to sign up for remote-instruction as their reasons for doing so. These students were told that if they remained at home without access to online classes, they could face expulsion.
The decision of how to reopen has been left to Georgia’s individual school districts, which have already faced challenges in doing so. Teachers have protested against reopening plans, citing safety concerns, and football players at NPHS tested positive for the virus one day before the school reopened.
In Gwinnett County Public Schools, the largest school district in Georgia, over 260 employees tested positive or were exposed to the virus while meeting to plan for the school year. Georgia reported 3,182 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, with 42 deaths and 214 hospitalizations.
Sources: The Washington Post 8/7/20; CNN 8/7/20; Paulding County School District, MSN 8/6/20; WSBTV 8/2/20; BuzzFeed News 8/5/20; CNN 8/7/20; New York Post 8/6/20; Georgia Department of Public Health 8/6/20