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Two Students Say They Were Suspended From Their Georgia High School For Posting Photos Of Crowded Hallways

The images of students packed together in hallways went viral on Twitter as the school faces scrutiny from staff and students.

Last updated on August 6, 2020, at 6:42 p.m. ET

Posted on August 6, 2020, at 12:22 p.m. ET

At least two students say they have been suspended at North Paulding High School in Georgia for posting photos of crowded hallways that went viral on Twitter.

The photos show students packed into hallways between classes, not appearing to practice social distancing and with few masks visible, amid the coronavirus pandemic. They went viral after being shared by the account @Freeyourmindkid.

One of the teens who posted photos, 15-year-old Hannah Watters, told BuzzFeed News she received a five-day, out-of-school suspension for posting one photo and one video on Twitter.

Students are packed into a school hallway
Hannah Watters

She posted the above photo with the caption, "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."

Watters said she was pulled into the school's office around noon on Wednesday and was told she had violated the student code of conduct.

"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.

Paulding County Schools has not responded to requests for comment on the alleged suspension.

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

Another student, who did not want their name used, also told BuzzFeed News that they were suspended for posting photos on Twitter.

It's unclear who took the first image that went viral and whether they have been punished by the school.

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On Wednesday, an intercom announcement at the school from principal Gabe Carmona said any student found criticizing the school on social media could face discipline.

Watters said she took the photos to raise awareness of how her school "ignorantly opened back up."

"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."

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

Students, teachers, and parents at North Paulding High School told BuzzFeed News they fear the school rushed its reopening. Despite reports of positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff, classes have resumed and students have been told they could face expulsion if they don't attend.

One teacher resigned last month over concerns for their safety when classes resumed.

The school district has also chosen not to enforce mask-wearing, calling it a "personal choice," even though the CDC now recommends their use.

Watters took a tally of how many students were wearing masks in her classes and posted it on Twitter. In every class, fewer than half of the students wore them. Watters said she wore a mask all day, except for at lunch.

Hannah Watters

"I think my punishment’s severity was excessive, but I do understand that I violated a code of conduct policy," she said, adding this was her first time being reprimanded by the school.

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

Michael Tafelski, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s children’s rights project urged the school district to immediately reverse and remove the suspensions from the students’ records.

“Children do not waive their constitutional rights in school, and the district abused its discretion in suspending these students," Tafelski added in a statement. "It could not have come at a worst time as families are struggling to cope with the social and economic pressures brought on by the pandemic, including the abrupt school closures in March that disrupted the education of thousands of students."

Watters said her family plans to fight the suspension.

UPDATE

Watters said North Paulding's principal has reversed her suspension. She will go back to school on Monday.



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