State Watch

Two Georgia high school students say they were suspended after photos of crowded hallways went viral

Two high school students in Georgia say they were suspended after they posted photos and footage of students some of whom were not seen wearing a face covering crowding in their school’s hallways after it resumed in-person classes.

One 15-year-old student at North Paulding High School in Dallas, Ga., told BuzzFeed News in an interview on Thursday that she was suspended for sharing a photo and footage on Twitter of crowded hallways at her school earlier this week.

She said the school suspended her for five days, saying she violated school polices that “stated that I used my phone in the hallway without permission, used my phone for social media, and posting pictures of minors without consent.”

The alleged suspension comes days after the student posted footage on Twitter showing classmates crowding hallways at the school as they returned for class this week.

“Day two at North Paulding High School. It is just as bad. We were stopped because it was jammed,” she wrote in a tweet with one photo. “This is not ok. Not to mention the 10% mask rate.”

She also shared footage of students walking in the hallways during a “split dismissal” later in the day. In the video, a number of the students could be seen without masks and the bulk of them were also not adhering to social distancing guidelines.

The student told BuzzFeed News that the school principal, Gabe Carmona, warned students later on Wednesday that they could face punishment if they criticize the school online. 

That same day, the 15-year-old posted tallies she had taken from her classes of the number of students she saw wear masks compared to the class total. More often than not, less than half of the students were wearing masks, she said.

A second student told the outlet they were also suspended after sharing photos online.

The Hill has reached out to Paulding County Schools for comment.

The school district also drew scrutiny online earlier this week after a photo taken at one of its schools, showing packed hallways on the first day, racked up more than 92,000 likes and more than 56,000 retweets.

Paulding Superintendent Brian Otott told parents in a letter this week that “some individuals on social media are taking this photo and using it without context to criticize our school reopening efforts,” according to a local news station that obtained a copy of the letter.

“Under the COVID-19 protocols we have adopted, class changes that look like this may happen, especially at a high school with more than 2,000 students,” he continued. 

“One area where we have received a good deal of feedback is mask use in our schools. Wearing a mask is a personal choice and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them. What we will do is continue to strongly encourage all students and staff to wear masks,” he added.

Georgia is among a number of states that does not require people to wear masks in public, despite guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) promoting the use of face coverings to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

In her interview on Thursday, the high school student said she posted the photo and footage online to show how the school “ignorantly opened back up.” 

“Not only did they open, but they have not been safe. Many people are not following CDC guidelines because the county did not make these precautions mandatory,” she added.

She also said she feels her “punishment’s severity was excessive, but I do understand that I violated a code of conduct policy.” 

“We have a progressive discipline system. When disciplining me and the other student, they skipped level one and went straight to two,” she added.

The report comes days after an elementary classroom in Georgia had to be closed recently after a second grader tested positive for the disease shortly after in-person classes resumed. Twenty-one people were also asked to quarantine as a result.

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