At least six students and three staffers have tested positive for the coronavirus at the Georgia high school that gained national attention this past week due to photos that showed its hallways packed with students, few of whom were wearing masks. Gabe Carmona, the principal of North Paulding High School, sent a letter to parents over the weekend detailing that nine people who were at the school for “at least some time” last week have since tested positive for COVID-19. “At this time, we know there were six students and three staff members who were in school for at least some time last week who have since reported to us that they have tested positive,” reads the letter that was published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The letter does not specify whether any students or staff members will be placed under quarantine or if any classrooms will be closed. “We have anticipated that COVID-19 would impact us as it has nearly every community, and the district has worked in partnership with the Department of Public Health (DPH) to proactively implement safety precautions and response plans,” reads the letter.
The Paulding County school district began the academic year on Monday and was quickly thrust into the national spotlight after the photos of its crowded hallways went viral on social media. The attention was not just due to what the photos showed but also how the school district reacted to their publication by suspending two students and warning others that they would face repercussions if they also published photos on social media.
One of those who had been suspended was Hannah Watters, a 15-year-old 10th grader who said she did not regret her decision to post the photo even though she recognized it was a violation of the school’s policy against publishing images of students on social media without their consent. “My mom has always told me that she won’t get mad at us if we get in trouble as long as it’s ‘good trouble,’” Hannah told the New York Times, using the phrase that was made famous by the late John Lewis, the longtime Georgia lawmaker and civil rights icon who died last month. “You’re bettering society and bettering the world, so those consequences don’t outweigh the end result.” Hillary Clinton had also invoked Lewis when she praised the students who took the photos. “John Lewis would be proud,” she wrote on Twitter while linking to a story about the suspensions.
After a national outcry, the school district lifted the suspensions on Friday. “Following a review of a situation at North Paulding High School that resulted in the suspension of two students, the principal of NPHS [North Paulding High School] notified the students today that their suspensions have been rescinded and all records of the suspensions deleted,” Brian Otott, superintendent of the Paulding County School District, wrote in a statement.
Ottot had previously sent a letter to parents saying the photos were taken out of context. “Some individuals on social media are taking this photo and using it without context to criticize our school reopening efforts,” Otott said. “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.” He also said that wearing a mask was a “personal choice” and there was “no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them.”
For more discussion of education during coronavirus, listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting.