The widely circulated photo from North Paulding High School in Dallas, Ga., showed students crowded into a packed hallway on their first day back to classes since the coronavirus outbreak shuttered schools in the spring. Few were wearing masks, and there was little sign of social distancing. Then on Day 2, there was another.
The photos, which were shared on social media and cited in news reports, have quickly come to symbolize a chaotic first week back in U.S. classrooms. Schools in states where students have returned, including Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Indiana, have had to initiate quarantines and in some cases shut down classrooms and entire schools temporarily after positive cases emerged.
A 15-year-old student at North Paulding, Hannah Watters, was initially suspended for five days for posting images of the crowded hallways on Twitter, according to her mother, Lynne Watters, who said she filed a grievance with the school on Thursday.
By Friday, Hannah said, her suspension had been lifted and wiped from her record, with the schools principal calling her mother to tell her that she could return to class on Monday.
Although she agreed that she had breached the schools policy, which prohibits filming students and posting their images to social media without their consent, Hannah said in an interview that she did not regret doing so as the images had shed light on the crowding and lack of social distancing in her school.
My mom has always told me that she wont get mad at us if we get in trouble as long as its good trouble, Hannah said, invoking the famous phrase of Representative John Lewis, the civil rights leader who was laid to rest in Atlanta last week. Youre bettering society and bettering the world, so those consequences dont outweigh the end result.
The high school and school district did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The superintendent of the Paulding County School District, Brian Otott, had defended his systems reopening plan, saying in a letter to the community after the hallway photos circulated that the scenes were taken out of context. Students only remained in the hallways briefly while switching classes, he wrote, and the school was following recommendations issued by the Georgia Department of Education.
But he acknowledged, There is no question that the photo does not look good.
Masks are not required at the school, Mr. Otott said, though the administration strongly encourages them for students and staff members.
Wearing a mask is a personal choice, and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them, he wrote, adding that more than 2,000 students attend the high school.
Updated Aug. 7, 2020
The latest highlights as the first students return to U.S. schools.
The districts guidelines say staff members will do their best to require students to maintain social distancing, but note that it would not be possible to enforce social distancing in classrooms or on school buses unless it is a class or a bus with fewer students.
A spokesman for the Georgia Department of Public Healths northwest district, which includes Paulding County, said the agency offers advice about best practices for controlling the spread of the virus, but choices about what to do in schools are ultimately up to local officials.
Each school system makes its own decisions, said the spokesman, Logan Boss, adding that the department does not monitor schools to see if they are complying with its recommendations.
The high school opened for the school year on Monday even though there had already been reports of a coronavirus outbreak among members of the football team. Mr. Boss said he was not aware of students or staff members testing positive at North Paulding High, but he added, Theres widespread community transmission in Paulding County.
For Hannah, her return to class next week will be an anxious one. There is still the worry over the virus, and now also the stress of wondering how other students will respond to her having shared the images of the crowded hallway.
Going back, Im probably going to be just about as nervous as I was the first day of school, she said, adding that she hopes people realize that she posted the pictures to advocate for the safety of everyone in the building.
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