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Georgia school reverses decision to suspend teen over crowded hall photo

A high school in Georgia has reversed its decision to suspend a 15-year-old girl who posted photos of crowded hallways amid the COVID-19 pandemic – as the district’s superintendent acknowledged the scenes didn’t look good but said masks couldn’t be mandated. 

Hannah Watters was suspended from North Paulding High School for five days after she shared photos and video on Twitter on Tuesday of her classmates crowding into hallways during the first week back. 

The 15-year-old tweeted on Friday morning that the school had decided to reverse the 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.’

Another North Paulding student, who has not been publicly named, was also suspended after a photo they took on Monday went viral. 

It is not yet clear if that student’s suspension has also been reversed. 

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.      

After the photos went viral, Paulding County School District superintendent Brian Otott sent a letter out to parents acknowledging it didn’t look good.  

‘There is no question that the photo does not good,’ he wrote. 

‘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.’

There is no statewide mask mandate in the state of Georgia.

Otott went on to say that the photos were taken out of context and defended the district’s reopening plan, saying the protocols were in compliance with the state’s rules. 

‘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. 

‘Class changes at the high school level are a challenge when maintaining a specific schedule.

‘Students are in this hallway environment for just a brief period as they move to their next class.’

The school district, which began in-person classes Monday with mask-optional policies, came under fire when the photos and video emerged showing students packed shoulder-to-shoulder.

In the photos, which were taken on Monday and Tuesday, fewer than half of the students shown are wearing masks. 

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.’   

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