Two high school students from Georgia have been suspended for posting photos and videos of a crowded hallway on social media. The images showed students filling the halls at North Paulding High School on the first day of class. Most of the students were not wearing masks.
The photos quickly went viral, and one of the students who posted them was called into the principal's office. 15-year-old Hannah Watters told BuzzFeed News that officials informed her she violated the school's code of conduct for using a cell phone in the hallway to access social media.
"The policies I broke stated that I used my phone in the hallway without permission, used my phone for social media, and posting pictures of minors without consent," she said.
She received a five-day out of school suspension. Another student who posted photos also told BuzzFeed they were suspended.
On Wednesday (August 5), students were warned that they would be punished if they criticized the school for opening in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Anything that's going on social media that's negative or alike without permission, photography, that's video or anything, there will be consequences," an announcement over the loudspeaker warned.
Watters said that her family plans to fight the suspension.
"I think my punishment's severity was excessive, but I do understand that I violated a code of conduct policy," she said. "We have a progressive discipline system. When disciplining me and the other student, they skipped level one and went straight to two."
Watters doesn't regret posting the photos, even if they make school and local officials look bad.
"Not only did they open, but they have not been safe," she said. "Many people are not following CDC guidelines because the county did not make these precautions mandatory."
The school district has defended its policies and said that wearing masks is a "personal choice."
"The Department of Public Health state exposure to COVID-19 occurs after 'Being within 6 feet of sick person with COVID-19 for about 15 minutes," Paulding Superintendent Brian Otott said. "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."
Photo: Hannah Watters