Georgia high school reverses suspension of student who tweeted photo of crowded hallway

“I was happily surprised,” said Hannah Watters, adding that school called this morning to let her family know that the suspension was dropped.
/ Source: NBC News
By Chloe Atkins

North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia reversed the suspension of a 15-year-old student who tweeted an image of students crowding in hallways that quickly went viral, according to the student.

“I was happily surprised,” said Hannah Watters, adding that the school called this morning to let her family know that the suspension was dropped.

The news comes just days after the high school sophomore said she was suspended for sharing a photo and video on Twitter showing students, many of whom weren’t wearing masks, packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the high school’s hallways.

Watters said Paulding High School suspended her for using her phone without permission on school grounds, using her phone for social media during school hours and posting images of minors without their consent.

Watters’ mother later filed a formal letter of grievance with the school.

“They disciplined me for things that everyone does at that school,” she said. “The severity of it was unnecessary.”

In a statement to NBC's "TODAY" show, the school said they were "aware of the issues" and are "gathering the facts of the situation and will address the issue in accordance with district policies and regulations."

Paulding County School District Superintendent Brian Otott also addressed the incident in an open letter after the photos started circulating, saying the photos were taken out of context while also acknowledging that "there is no question that the photo does not look good."

"Under the COVID-19 protocols we have adopted, class changes that look like this may happen, especially at a high school with more than 2,000 students," Otott wrote in the letter, noting that the situation complies with the Georgia Department of Education's guidelines recommending schools "limit the congregation of students during transitions to the 'extent practicable.'"

Otott wrote that the school would work to further limit crowding while noting that "students are in this hallway environment for just a brief period as they move to their next class."

Critics on social media lambasted the images and questioned the school’s coronavirus safety measures.

“I had my trust in North Paulding that I was going to be provided with safe learning, and this was not anywhere near as safe as I thought it would be,” Watters said, adding that the school should be held accountable.

Watters captioned a photo in a tweet with, “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. ... This is not ok. Not to mention the 10% mask rate.”

She also posted a video of many students who were not socially distanced during a “split dismissal.”

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The Paulding County School district started the fall semester on Monday and offered digital and in-person classes. However, students are not required to wear face masks at school; it is only encouraged.

North Paulding High School Principal Gabe Carmona did not immediately respond to NBC News' requests for comment.

Watters said schools are responsible for taking care of students, faculty and custodians, and added that she would feel a lot safer if masks were required.

“They are putting so many lives at danger, not to mention the lives of kids,” she said. “It’s not that I want them to shut back down immediately, I want precautions.”