Teen Hannah Watters exposed crowded hallways at her Georgia high school, only to be suspended.
Watters, who attends North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia, garnered national attention after tweeting out a snapshot of her hallway at school while students were changing classes. The picture captured students standing close together with not many wearing masks on the second day back to school amid the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, August 4.
Watters tweeted with the photo, “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.”
And despite the picture, along with a similar one posted by another student, attracting national headlines, Watters was suspended from the school for exposing the lack of social distancing.
Brian Otott, Paulding County School District Superintendent, addressed one of the viral photos of a hallway at North Paulding High School in a letter to the community, acknowledging that the “photo does not look good,” but also that it was purportedly being used without context in the media.
“Class changes at the high school level are a challenge when maintaining a specific schedule,” he explained. “It is an area we are continuing to work on in this new environment to find practicable ways to further limit students from congregating. Students are in this hallway environment for just a brief period as they move to their next class.” Otott additionally cited the Department of Health’s guidance that exposure to COVID-19 occurs after “being within six feet of a sick person with COVID-19 for about 15 minutes.”
“One area where we have received a good deal of feedback is mask use in our schools,” he added. “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.” In a tweet, Watters logged less than half of students wearing a mask in nearly all of her classes for the first three days of school.
According to school policy, Watters explained on CNN how she was found in violation of multiple policies in the school’s code of conduct.
“One of them saying that I used my phone during instruction time and that I used it in the hallway during class change, but it also says that students nine through 12 have permission to use it,” Watters said on TV. “The second one that they said I broke was using my phone during school hours for social media, but I posted the photo onto Twitter after school…at the end of dismissal.”
She did admit to breaking a policy regarding filming students and posting it on social media platforms but claimed it was “good and necessary trouble,” and doesn’t “regret posting this because it needed to be said.”
In the interim, Watters is now able to join her classmates. Only hours after her TV appearance, Watters posted to social media how her suspension had been lifted. Initially, the 15-year-old received a five-day out of school suspension for posting a photo and a video of the over-crowded school on Twitter.
“This morning my school called and they have deleted my suspension,” she tweeted. “To everyone supporting me, I can’t thank you enough. If I’m not responding it’s because my life has been somewhat crazy the past few days. Once again thank you…To be 100% clear, I can go back to school on Monday. I couldn’t have done this without all the support, thank you.”
Initially, 15-year-old Watters received a five-day out of school suspension for posting a photo and a video of the over-crowded school on Twitter.
According to Buzzfeed News, the North Paulding High School administration suspended a total of two students who posted photos of the crowded and dangerously packed hallways — which in turn, forced the district superintendent to release a public statements to parents as well as the country about the photo, calling it taken out of context. It is not clear if the other student, who has remained unnamed, has had their suspension lifted as well.
Students were warned that if they decided not to return to school after the photo went viral, they would be expelled from school according to another Buzzfeed investigation.
This was after allegations surrounding the school that COVID-19 had already broken out in the building among teachers and among the football team. The school had swept the cases under the rug, citing “privacy” of those who are ill, without closing the school down completely for a few days until the full extent of the outbreak is confirmed, which is a CDC-recommended guideline.
As of August 9, Otott confirmed there were at least nine active cases of COVID-19 at the highschool.
At least six students and three faculty members are ill and as a result, the school will be closed for at least two days to wait on further test results as well as to deep clean the school building.
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.