A 15-year-old high school student who posted a viral photo of a crowded school hallway says the school suspended her for five days for allegedly violating a social-media policy. But the school has since backed down and lifted the suspension.
Hannah Watters, a student at North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia, posted a photo to Twitter on Tuesday, noting the "jammed" hallways and "10 percent mask rate." Her tweet received 1,800 retweets and 4,500 likes. She also posted a 10-second video of a hallway at the 2,000-student school and says she was suspended around noon the next day.
This is what it looks like even with split dismissal. pic.twitter.com/erCA2lhOUb
— hannah (@ihateiceman) August 4, 2020
"The policies I broke stated that I used my phone in the hallway without permission, used my phone for social media, and posting pictures of minors without consent," Watters said, according to a BuzzFeed article. Watters called her actions "good and necessary trouble"—an apparent reference to a John Lewis quote—saying she is worried about the safety of students, faculty, and staff as the school reopens despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Her mother, Lynne Watters, said "the family is challenging the suspension," according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Cell phone use is allowed in between classes and the sophomore waited until after regular school hours to post to social media, her mother said in a text message. 'I feel they are selectively enforcing the rule in question,' she wrote, adding that Hannah has never been in trouble at school."
The newspaper article said one other student was suspended from the school for the same reason but didn't name the other student. We contacted the school district today and will update this article if we get a response.
Watters' appeal was apparently successful. "This morning my school called and they have deleted my suspension," Hannah Watters tweeted this morning. "To everyone supporting me, I can't thank you enough."
State Schools Superintendent Richard Woods said in a statement today that "discipline decisions are constitutionally the purview of local boards of education," but he encouraged "districts and schools to operate with transparency, and to ensure that students and staff are not penalized for expressing their concerns," according to the Journal-Constitution article. The newspaper also quoted Dr. Harry Heiman, clinical associate professor at Georgia State University's School of Public Health, as saying that the hallway photo showed "exactly the kind of situation that school planning should ensure doesn't happen."
"It's not a question of if that's going to cause spread of the pandemic. It's only a question of how quickly and to how many people," Heiman said. Some members of the school football team had already tested positive for COVID-19 before the school reopened.
District: Photo looks bad but is missing “context”
In a leaked audio recording, North Paulding High School Principal Gabe Carmona was heard warning students of "consequences" for posting photos or video "on social media that is negative in our light without permission."