A Georgia high school has reversed the suspension of the student behind a viral “back to school” photo.
North Paulding High School had suspended 15-year-old Hannah Watters after the sophomore tweeted out a photo showing crowded hallways during a class change upon students’ return to school Monday.
The photo showed that few students were wearing face masks and there was little room for social distancing — both of which sparked concern as COVID-19 cases continue to trend in the wrong direction in Georgia and other parts of the U.S.
The photo thrust the metro-Atlanta school into the national spotlight, and Watters was handed a five-day, out-of-school suspension, McClatchy News previously reported. She was one of at least two North Paulding students who faced discipline after posting the pictures online.
“Following review of a situation at North Paulding High School that resulted in the suspension of two students, the principal of NPHS notified the students today that their suspensions have been rescinded and all records of the suspensions deleted,” district spokesman Jay Dillon told McClatchy News in a statement. “The school district’s policy is not to comment on specific student discipline matters. However, due to significant national interest in the issue at North Paulding High School, parents of both students granted the district permission to confirm the suspensions have been rescinded.”
Watters, 15, took to Twitter early Friday to share the good news.
This morning my school called and they have deleted my suspension. To everyone supporting me, I can’t thank you enough. If I’m not responding it’s because my life has been somewhat crazy the past few days. Once again thank you. ️
— hannah (@ihateiceman) August 7, 2020
“This morning my school called and they have deleted my suspension,” she wrote. “To everyone supporting me, I can’t thank you enough.”
Her mother, Lynne Watters, was also glad to hear the school had lifted her daughter’s suspension, The Washington Post reported.
“The principal just said that they were very sorry for any negative attention that this has brought upon her, and that in the future they would like for her to come to the administration with any safety concerns she has,” she told the outlet.
The teen will be allowed back at school on Monday, Watters’ mother said.
Watters acknowledged violating the school’s code of conduct, which prohibits filming or taking photos of “minors” and posting them without their consent. However, she told The New York Times she doesn’t regret posting the pictures, which offered a peek into schools’ efforts to reopen safely amid the pandemic.
“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,’ ” Watters told the NYT, invoking the words of Georgia congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis, who died last month after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 80 years old.
“You’re bettering society and bettering the world,” Watters said. “So those consequences don’t outweigh the end result.”
#Exclusive recording from North #Paulding High telling kids they will be punished for sharing to social media about conditions. Plus new #COVID19 cases in Cherokee County Schools and a football player in Henry County tests positive... details @cbs46 #Atlanta #backtoschool pic.twitter.com/3o9GFGxlIg
— Jamie S Kennedy (@Jamie_S_Kennedy) August 6, 2020
In an interview with BuzzFeed News, the teen criticized how her school had “ignorantly opened back up” and wasn’t taking the proper measures to keep students and staff safe. The Paulding County School District, which has over 33,000 students, isn’t requiring face masks and has instead made wearing them a “personal choice.”
“Many people are not following CDC guidelines because the county did not make these precautions mandatory,” Watters told the outlet.
District Superintendent Dr. Brian Otott defended the school’s reopening after the photos drew backlash, saying the images had been “taken out of context.” In a letter to parents, he acknowledged the photos “did not look good,” however.
“Under the COVID-19 protocols we have adopted, class changes that look like this may happen,” he said of Watters’ photo, according to WSB-TV. “Especially at a high school with more than 2,000 students.”