At least two students say they have been suspended at North Paulding High School in Georgia for posting photos of crowded hallways that went viral on Twitter.
The photos show students packed into hallways between classes, not appearing to practice social distancing and with few masks visible, amid the coronavirus panic. They went viral after being shared by the account @Freeyourmindkid.
One of the teens who posted photos, 15-year-old Hannah Watters, told BuzzFeed News she received a five-day, out-of-school suspension for posting one photo and one video on Twitter.
She posted the above photo with the caption, “Day two at North Paulding High School. It is just as bad. We were stopped because it was jammed. We are close enough to the point where I got pushed multiple go to second block. This is not ok. Not to mention the 10% mask rate.”
Watters said she was pulled into the school’s office around noon on Wednesday and was told she had violated the student code of conduct.
“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,” she said.
Paulding County Schools has not responded to requests for comment on the alleged suspension.
Another student, who did not want their name used, also told BuzzFeed News that they were suspended for posting photos on Twitter.
It’s unclear who took the first image that went viral and whether they have been punished by the school.
On Wednesday, an intercom announcement at the school from principal Gabe Carmona said any student found criticizing the school on social media could face discipline.
Watters said she took the photos to raise awareness of how her school “ignorantly opened back up.”
“Not only did they open, but they have not been safe,” she said. “Many people are not following CDC guidelines because the county did not make these precautions mandatory.”
Students, teachers, and parents at North Paulding High School told BuzzFeed News they fear the school rushed its reopening. Despite reports of positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff, classes have resumed and students have been told they could face expulsion if they don’t attend.
One teacher resigned last month over concerns for their safety when classes resumed.
The school district has also chosen not to enforce mask-wearing, calling it a “personal choice,” even though the CDC now recommends their use.
Watters took a tally of how many students were wearing masks in her classes and posted it on Twitter. In every class, fewer than half of the students wore them. Watters said she wore a mask all day, except for at lunch.
“I think my punishment’s severity was excessive, but I do understand that I violated a code of conduct policy,” she said, adding this was her first time being reprimanded by the school.
“We have a progressive discipline system. When disciplining me and the other student, they skipped level one and went straight to two.”
Watters said her family plans to fight the suspension.