A high school in Georgia that shot to national attention this week, after photos of the packed school corridors with mask-less students went viral, has announced that it is temporarily switching its lessons to online-only.
North Paulding High School confirmed six new cases among students and three infections of staff members, less than a week after school resumed.
On Sunday Brian Otott, Paulding County Schools Superintendent, said that the school would be closed on Monday and lessons would be online.
In a letter to parents, Otott said Monday and Tuesday will be used to clean and disinfect the school.
Parents will learn Tuesday evening if in-person classes can resume later in the week.
‘Hopefully we can all agree that the health and safety of our students and staff takes precedence over any other considerations at this time,’ said Otott in his letter, which was obtained by Atlanta-area news outlets.
One of the students who took the viral photos, Hannah Watters, 15, was initially suspended over posting the images.
The school later reversed its decision on Watters’ suspension.
‘This morning my school called and they have deleted my suspension,’ Watters said.
‘To be 100 percent clear, I can go back to school on Monday. I couldn’t have done this without all the support, thank you.’
Watters had earlier said the school told her she was being suspended for violating the code of conduct by using a cellphone and social media in school hours and violating student privacy by photographing them.
Following the publication of the photos, a whistleblower hotline has been created by a local representative to allow students and staff to raise concerns about the safety measures being taken in their schools.
Angie Franks told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that two of her nephews were among the six students to test positive at the school this week.
One of the boys returned home from school Monday with no sense of smell and was immediately taken to be tested.
His brother also began to display symptoms and they were confirmed with coronavirus Wednesday.
They have since been quarantining at home but Franks voiced concern about the other students that may have exposed Monday.
‘They sat in class all day long with no masks and not social distancing,’ Franks said. ‘And I have no idea how many kids they came into contact with.’
She added that they had not been encouraged to wear masks in classrooms and hallways, and that the boys had not understood the gravity of the situation.
It comes as WSB TV Atlanta reports that the school has confirmed 23 coronavirus cases since July 1, far more than any other schools in the district.
There have been 53 cases reported since the start of July in Paulding County schools but the majority only have one confirmed case.
Schools did not begin in-person tuition until August 3.
In response to the viral images, Georgia State House Rep. Beth Moore established an anonymous whistleblower email account Friday for students, teachers and administrators to send pictures, videos and testimonials of the situation in their schools.
She has since posted several worrying claims that one school county board has tested positive for coronavirus and that in another school, teachers have yet to be supplied with protective and cleaning equipment.
‘This tweet has only been up for 1 hour & already I’ve received a disturbing tip of a county school board member testing positive, not telling anyone, & going to lunch at a restaurant a few days later,’ she wrote in a tweet Friday.
‘It’s the same failure of leadership at the state & federal level.’
One teacher in Gwinnett claimed that teachers were forced into an in-person meeting, where not everyone wore masks and those who attempted to social distance were told to move closer.
‘My principal is wonderful and I feel she is being pushed to do things that she knows aren’t right or feasible either,’ the teacher wrote.
Another teacher from the same district claimed the school’s custodian was almost in tears telling teachers that they did not have enough cleaning supplies to give teachers for their classrooms.
‘He said that if it is not provided soon, he will leave because he doesn’t want to feel responsible for people getting sick or God forbid – dying,’ they wrote.
They added that teachers had not been told where to isolate students if they are confirmed to have coronavirus during school hours and that no extra custodial staff have been hired to assist with the extra cleaning.
In the photos, which were taken on Monday and Tuesday, fewer than half of the students shown are wearing masks.
There is no statewide mask mandate in the state of Georgia.
Watters told CNN that she posted the photos because she worried about the safety of students and teachers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘I was concerned for the safety of everyone in that building and everyone in the county because precautions that the CDC and guidelines that the CDC has been telling us for months now, weren’t being followed,’ Watters said.
She went on to reference the late John Lewis by saying: ‘I’d like to say this is some good and necessary trouble.
‘My biggest concern is not only about me being safe, it’s about everyone being safe because behind every teacher, student and staff member there is a family, there are friends, and I would just want to keep everyone safe.’
In the Cherokee County School District, staff and students at one school were forced to begin another 14-day quarantine this week after a second-grader tested positive after their first day back.
On Saturday, Georgia confirmed the death of a seven-year-old boy from coronavirus complications who had no preexisting conditions. He has contracted the virus after attending church.
The state now has more than 216,600 cases and over 4,199 deaths with an 11.92 percent positivity rate.
More than 3,100 new cases were confirmed on Sunday, and 13 deaths.