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A Georgia School Undid A Student's Suspension For Viral Hallway Photos

Hannah Watters was suspended on Wednesday for posting a photo and video to Twitter showing a lack of social distancing and mask-wearing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Posted on August 7, 2020, at 12:18 p.m. ET

Students with blurred faces walk in a crowded school hallway
Hannah Watters

North Paulding High School in Georgia has decided to reverse the suspension of a student who was punished for posting a photo and a video of crowded hallways at the school, according to the student.

Hannah Watters, 15, told BuzzFeed News she got a five-day, out-of-school suspension on Wednesday for sharing the images on Twitter. She said she posted the pictures because she was concerned about the lack of social distancing and mask-wearing by her classmates amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"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.

The code of conduct with rules circled stating that students cannot use cellphones while at school and cannot access social networking sites
Hannah Watters

On Friday, Watters said she and her mother got the news from North Paulding's principal, Gabe Carmona, that the decision has been reversed.

"I am happy to continue my education there. I’ve always valued it," she said. "Hopefully safety measures will be taken. As of right now, we haven’t heard anything new from the school, but like I said hopefully it will be safer for everyone."

At least one other student was suspended this week, although it's not clear whether their punishment was also reversed. Paulding County Schools has not responded to requests for comment on the alleged suspensions.

North Paulding opened on Aug. 3 for in-person classes despite reports of positive COVID-19 cases among both students and staff. The school district also chose not to enforce mask-wearing, calling it a "personal choice," even though the CDC now recommends their use.

In the first few days, several students shared photos on social media showing crowded hallways between classes. One, shared anonymously through a third-party account, went viral, drawing scrutiny to the school's decision to reopen during the pandemic.

After the images went viral, Carmona announced on the school's intercom that any student found criticizing the school on social media could face discipline.

A message from the district's superintendent was shared by the same account that posted the original viral photo. In it, superintendent Brian Otott said the district has taken "further steps" to reduce crowding between classes.

I was just given this letter by a staff member, apparently the superintendent is trying to save face.

"My staff and I are also reviewing student discipline matters that have occurred this week in both the virtual and in-person instructional platforms," the message said.

He also said the "challenges" of the first few days were "compounded by the nature of social media and news coverage."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.