Footage of students not social distancing inside corridors and gyms has emerged as tens of thousands of students returned to school for the first time this week amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Students across the country resumed in-person classes on Monday for the first time since March with schools reopening in parts of Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.
One image of a crowded corridor at a school believed to be in Paulding County, Georgia, sparked concern given the lack of social distancing among students.
Only a handful of students in that photo could be seen wearing masks.
There is no statewide mandate in Georgia requiring people to wear masks.
The Georgia Department of Education’s guidelines for reopening states that while masks are not compulsory, they are strongly recommended where social distancing isn’t possible.
The guidelines use ‘hallway transitions’ as a specific example of when social distancing might be difficult to monitor.
The start of the school year in Paulding County, which is about 25 miles northwest of Atlanta, came as the principal of North Paulding High School sent a letter over the weekend announcing a football player had tested positive for the virus after attending practice.
A student in Georgia shared a video on TikTok on Monday criticizing her classmates for not wearing masks inside the classroom.
The video showed the student sitting among her classmates with the caption: ‘When you’re the only one wearing a mask in your class’.
Meanwhile another student, believed to be in Tennessee, posted a video on TikTok that she filmed inside her school’s gymnasium, saying she had only seen three other students wearing masks.
‘First day back to school during a global pandemic. Only saw three students wearing masks,’ she wrote on the video.
‘Can someone tell me why the f**k I was one of a handful of students wearing a f**king mask? These b***es are dirty!’
Tennessee also does not have a statewide mask mandate.
The reopening of schools amid the coronavirus pandemic has become a contentious issues of late.
President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have urged schools to reopen.
However, Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warned on Monday: ‘There may be some areas where the level of virus is so high that it would not be prudent to bring the children back to school.’
‘So you can’t make one statement about bringing children back to school in this country. It depends on where you are,’ he said.
An uptick in COVID-19 has prompted some districts across the country to scrap in-person classes at least for the start of the school year, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington.
In Indiana, where schools reopened last week, a student at Greenfield-Central Junior High tested positive on the first day back to class and was isolated in the school clinic.
‘This really does not change our plans,’ School Superintendent Harold Olin said. ‘We knew that we would have a positive case at some point in the fall. We simply did not think it would happen on Day One.’
Elsewhere in Indiana, Elwood Junior Senior High suspended in-person classes two days into the school year after at least one staffer tested positive.
With the new school year beginning, some parents say they are struggling to balance fears of COVID-19 with the need for their children to socialize and the instruction that school provides.
Rachel Adamus, who lives in Georgia’s Paulding County, sent her two children back to school on Monday wearing masks.
‘We have kept them protected for so long,’ said Adamus, who said her aunt died from COVID-19 in Alabama and her husband’s great-uncle succumbed to the virus in a New Jersey nursing home.
‘They haven’t been to restaurants. We only go to parks if no one else is there. We don’t take them to the grocery store. And now they’re going to be in the classroom with however many kids for an entire day with a teacher.’
One student who wasn’t starting at North Paulding on Monday was Aliyah Williams.
Her mother, Erica Williams, said she is keeping the 14-year-old freshman home because two of her younger sons have cystic fibrosis and she can’t risk their being exposed.
Williams said she thinks her daughter will be okay academically with online classes, which up to 30% of the district’s students have enrolled in but she is worried about Aliyah’s inability to see her friends.
‘She’s a social butterfly. That’s a big part of her personality,’ Williams said.
Aliyah has been participating in color guard with the school band, but Williams said she is now ‘conflicted’ about that too, considering the football player’s positive test.
Other Paulding County parents were eager for in-person classes, including Jenna Thames who drove her two sons to school.
Thames said that no one at her house is high-risk and that as a former teacher, she thinks her children will learn more from teachers than they did from her in the spring.
‘They’re going to actually listen to their teacher, as opposed to me. When it’s time to do sight words, it was a fight every day,’ Thames said. ‘I absolutely trust our administration and our teachers to do what it takes to keep them safe and keep themselves safe.’
Many teachers are uneasy, dismayed that the Paulding district refused to mandate masks or push back the start date for in-person classes, as other Atlanta-area districts have done.
‘I desperately want to return to face-to-face teaching, but not until it is safe,’ Steven Hanft, a North Paulding High teacher, told the county school board last month.
In Newton County, Mississippi, fourth grader Avery Mangum returned to school for the first time in months to find many things changed: She had to wear a mask, sit in an assigned seat and eat in her classroom instead of in the cafeteria.
When children in her class moved around the school, they followed their teacher in a straight line with one arm sticking out in front of them to make sure they stayed at least an arm’s length away from other kids.
The playground at Avery’s school was split in two: Some kids could play on half of the equipment, and others on the other half, with only a certain number allowed in total.
‘It was really hard to socially distance while we were at recess,’ she said. ‘Everyone wants to play with their friends and do all these things but we can’t.’
Emily Thompson’s son started the sixth grade at Newton County Middle/High School in Decatur. Thompson, who works as a pharmacist, said she felt relief watching him get in line to have his temperature taken before entering the building.
She and her husband, who also works in health care, found it was a ‘nightmare’ trying to keep the boy and their two other elementary school-age children on track with their studies. She said she is not overly worried about her children getting sick at school.
‘It would be more detrimental not to send them, in my opinion, than for them to hang out and do the virtual learning,’ she said.
‘I think they’re going to get more interaction at school. They are going to learn more at school. They just need to be in that setting.’