Suspension Lifted For Teen Who Posted Photo Of Crowded Hall In Georgia School

A Georgia high school has lifted the suspension of a student who was punished after tweeting a photo of a dangerously crowded hallway to highlight the risks of spreading COVID-19.

“To everyone supporting me, I can’t thank you enough,” the 15-year-old sophomore noted Friday on Twitter after her five-day suspension was lifted and deleted from her school record. “I’m free to go back to school on Monday,” she texted to HuffPost.

The student posted a photo Tuesday of a jampacked hallway at North Paulding High School in the Atlanta suburb of Dallas. Almost no one was wearing a mask. Even before the school opened Monday, Principal Gabe Carmona had warned parents in a letter that some members of the football team had contracted COVID-19.

An earlier photo reportedly by another student posted Monday showed the same crowded situation. Both photos went viral across the nation and were picked up in news accounts.

The sophomore was suspended for violating school policy against taking photos of minors without permission. The suspension was lifted after her family filed a grievance with the school Thursday, she told HuffPost. 

The teen defended her action by citing a phrase from the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, about getting into “good trouble.”

“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,’” she told The New York Times. “You’re bettering society and bettering the world, so those consequences don’t outweigh the end result.”

Brian Otott, superintendent of the Paulding County School District, complained in a statement after the photos drew widespread attention that the packed hallway scenes were being criticized “without context.” He conceded “such situations may happen” as students change classes and admitted it didn’t “look good.” 

“Wearing a mask is a personal choice, and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them,” Otott added.

Georgia’s COVID-19 cases are surging, yet the state’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, opposes mandating masks. He’s even suing Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) for instituting a mask requirement in the city, arguing she has overstepped her authority. Kemp is also seeking a gag order to stop her from discussing the issue.

The state’s Barrow County School System, about 50 miles northeast of Atlanta, planned to start the school year on Aug. 17 with a combination of in-person and remote instruction. But it will now begin with virtual learning only after more than 90 staff members were forced to quarantine because of exposure to a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19, CNN reported Friday. 

The return to in-person school instruction for children is hugely controversial across the nation. Many locations are experiencing COVID-19 case surges that dwarf numbers from the spring, when schools were shut down because of the increasing risk of COVID-19.

Florida last month ordered all schools to open full time for in-person instruction in August even as cases were smashing records. Florida shut down its schools on March 17 when there was an average of 69 new COVID-19 cases a day. Florida reported close to 7,000 cases on Friday.

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