Hannah Watters and another student of Dallas, Georgia's North Paulding High School have been unfairly punished for displaying the petri dish that their school hallways have become.
Two students at the North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia, have been suspended after they shared photos of their first day back at school. The images depicted their high school hallways packed with students, most of whom were not wearing masks. Gabe Carmona, the principal at North Paulding, has warned other students about severe "consequences" should they do the same as their fellow students. One of those pupils was Hannah Watters, a 15-year-old who was handed a five-day suspension for allegedly violating the school's code of conduct when she filmed and posted a video of her maskless peers on campus, The Washington Post reports.
Students do not leave their First Amendment rights at the school house door.— ACLU (@ACLU) August 6, 2020
Silencing and disciplining students for criticizing their schools —including their school’s response to a global pandemic — is unconstitutional. https://t.co/okBrJxlojt
As per the code of conduct, students are not allowed to use social media during the school day. They are also restricted from using recording devices unless they have the permission of a school administrator. In an interview, Watters claimed that breaking the rules was "good and necessary trouble," though she added that the punishment she received was unwarranted and "overly harsh." "Not only did they open, but they [the school] have not been safe," she explained. "Many people are not following [Centers for Disease Control] guidelines because the county did not make these precautions mandatory." For many students, parents, and educators, this was a major concern about reopening schools in the first place.
This is what it looks like even with split dismissal. pic.twitter.com/erCA2lhOUb— hannah (@ihateiceman) August 4, 2020
The pupil continued, "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." Watters is not the only student at her high school who faced disciplinary action for sharing the goings-on at North Paulding. She and her parents plan to fight the school's decision to suspend her, though the grounds to win the fight are shaky at best at the moment. Another student, who has not been named, revealed that he too had been punished for the same reason.
Hannah Watters, the young lady who was suspended from that Georgia high school for exposing the lack of social distancing just quoted John Lewis—she said “I’d like to say that this is some good and necessary trouble...” when asked if she regretted her actions. Salute the ally!— Alvin aqua Blanco (@Aqua174) August 7, 2020
Meanwhile, principal Carmona has warned other students about copying Watters and the other students, threatening "consequences" should they do so. Over an intercom announcement, he stated, "Anything that’s going on social media that’s negative or alike without permission, photography, that’s video or anything, there will be consequences."
Paulding County Schools Superintendent Brian Otott, facing fierce backlash online, claimed that the photos "didn't look good," but that they were taken out of context. He did state in an email to parents on Thursday that the school, where wearing masks is a "personal choice," would provide all its staff with cloth masks and face shields. Further to this, the school plans to reduce crowding in school hallways during class changes.
Suspend the administrators! Ridiculous. They should not have opened. This is a Petri dish. I wonder whose parents won’t survive their children killing them. And then the children are not only orphaned but have to grapple with the fact they caused it. Too soon. Online or outside.— Littrellian (@moreenlittrell) August 6, 2020
Otott added that they would be "reviewing student discipline matters," no doubt referring to Watters and the other student's case. "This is a new environment for all of us," the Superintendent wrote. "But I want to reassure our community that we are addressing the issues that have come to light." Fred Smith Jr., an associate professor of law at Emory University, argued that Watters would have a stronger case to fight her suspension had she not posted the videos during school hours. He said, "From a rights perspective, the question I would have is whether or not the school has exercised similar discipline for other students who have posted anything during the school day, especially instances of people posting favorable things." If the student is able to show that there is a lack of equal enforcement in the rules, she might just be able to avoid the unfair punishment.
A 15-year-old student in Georgia was suspended after posting a photo of a crowded hallway at her school on social media. Hannah Watters says many students were not wearing masks.— CNN (@CNN) August 7, 2020
“I took it out of mostly concern and nervousness after seeing the first days of school.” pic.twitter.com/34edEBqTA1