Viral Photo Showing Maskless Students Crowded In School Hallway Leads To Student Suspension (UPDATE ADDED)
[guest post by Dana]
As students across the country return to in-person classes, you would think that the issue of social distancing protocols is at the forefront of administrators’ concerns. Keeping students safe while enforcing pandemic protocols would seem to be the top priority at these schools. However, one Georgia high school principal seems more concerned about optics rather than the troubling reality at his site:
A whistleblowing student at a Georgia high school was suspended after he posted a video of fellow students crammed into a hallway between classes, many of them without masks. After he was suspended, North Paulding County high school principal Gabe Carmona made an announcement over the school intercom, warning that “Anything that is going on on social media that is negative on our light… there will be consequences for both students or anyone who sends out those pictures, so please be careful.”
Here are the photos that got 15-year old Hannah Watters suspended:
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
This is what it looks like even with split dismissal. pic.twitter.com/erCA2lhOUb
— hannah (@ihateiceman) August 4, 2020
Watters also posted a tally list of students wearing masks in her classes v. those not wearing masks:
— hannah (@ihateiceman) August 5, 2020
Watters explained the reasoning behind her suspension:
I used my phone in the hallway without permission, used my phone for social media, and posting pictures of minors without consent.
Prior to schools reopening, the school district addressed questions about social distancing and mask-wearing in their Back to School 2020-2021 Supplemental Q & A sheet for parents and students, including informing parents that wearing a mask was a “personal choice” and the district would not mandate that students wear them. The district also said that social distancing efforts would be made when “feasible and practical”.
The district superintendent, addressing the publication of the photo, attempted to add context:
The district superintendent, Brian Otott, sent a message to parents in the wake of the photo. He offered “context” for the photograph: “Class changes that look like this may happen, especially at a high school with more than 2,000 students.” There was little the district could do, he said, beyond encouraging masks.
According to a person familiar with North Paulding High School, the plan shared with teachers said hallways were supposed to be one-way; the photograph was taken in one of the only two-laned hallways in the school. But the one-lane hallways had their own downsides, causing students to walk long routes between classes — spending more time in exposed common areas.
Already in Cherokee County, Georgia, at least four schools that started in-person classes on Monday, have had positive Covid-19 cases with contact tracing. And so now, just days after the schools reopened, all students and staff impacted by the outbreak are quarantining at home.
Dr. Fauci weighed in this week on the issue of reopening schools with in-person classes:
“I think to say every child has to go back to school is not really realizing the fact that we have such a diversity of viral activity. There may some sections of the country where the viral activity is so low you don’t have to do anything different, you can just send the children back to school,” Fauci said.
“Wearing a mask, if you don’t take the infection seriously, is a tough one to sell,” Fauci said.
He then offered two reasons why he believes students should return to in-person learning if it can be done safely:
First, school reopenings are important for “the psychological welfare of the children, the fact that many children rely on schools for nutrition, for breakfast, for healthy lunches,” he said.
Second, returning to in-person classes should be a national priority in order to avoid “the unintended downstream ripple effects on families,” he said, like parents needing to interrupt or stop work in order to take care of and homeschool their children.
That “creates a big issue,” he said.
“The ‘however,'” Fauci said, “is we must not compromise the health, the safety, and the welfare of the children, of the teachers and secondarily of their parents, who they may spread it to.”
Fauci discussed the exceptions to reopening schools:
In counties and cities with very low infection rates, for example, it may be possible to “go back to school with impunity and not worry about things,” he said.
In places with moderate infection rates, however, a modified approach — like bringing kids in only some days or parts of the day and implementing mask-wearing and physical distancing — may be safest.
Oh, and then there’s this little tidbit:
North Paulding High School, about an hour outside Atlanta, reopened Monday despite an outbreak among members of its high school football team, many of whom, a Facebook video shows, worked out together in a crowded indoor gym last week as part of a weightlifting fundraiser.
Within days of that workout, several North Paulding players had tested positive for the coronavirus. The school’s parents were notified just hours before the first day of class.
And multiple teachers at North Paulding say there are positive tests among school staff, including a staff member who came into contact with most teachers at the school while exhibiting symptoms last week. Teachers and staff said the school won’t confirm coronavirus infections among district employees, citing privacy reasons.
“That was exactly one week ago, so we are all waiting to see who gets sick next week,” a North Paulding teacher told BuzzFeed News of her exposure to the virus.
I have no idea how to get high schoolers to follow social distancing measures in narrow hallways, lunch periods, etc. That is an unenviable task. But I am convinced that mandating masks for everyone on campus, including students, is a pretty good place to start.
And sadly, just this week, a 7-year-old boy in Georgia with no underlying conditions became the youngest victim to die from COVID.
UPDATE: It’s unsurprising that administration caved on the suspension. After all, the video had gone viral, and Hannah Watters received massive support from the public. Frankly, it was a ridiculous move on the part of the administration and the bad optics of their decision did them no favors:
A Georgia high school has reversed course and lifted the suspension of two students who were punished after posting photos of the school’s packed hallways when classes resumed earlier this week. North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia, faced national criticism over the viral photos showing students shoulder-to-shoulder, with fewer than half wearing masks.
From Hannah Watters:
“This morning my school called and they have deleted my suspension,” she wrote.
“To be 100% clear, I can go back to school on Monday. I couldn’t have done this without all the support, thank you.”
School officials provided no explanation for rescinding the suspension. Nor did they mention whether this was such a significant teaching moment for them, that they will now use their time wisely to focus on what really matters, and not their image.