Ga. High School Student Says Suspension Reversed After Sharing Viral Photos of Mask-Less Classmates
The district's superintendent reportedly told parents in a memo that "wearing a mask is a personal choice"
A student who claimed she was suspended after sharing photos and critiquing her high school's reopening measures amid the pandemic now says administrators have reversed the punishment.
North Paulding High School sophomore Hannah Watters, 15, documented what it was like to return to the Dallas, Georgia, school upon its reopening during the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
"Day two at North Paulding High School. It's just as bad," she wrote alongside a photo that showed students crowding in the hallways with few wearing face masks. "We were stopped because it was jammed... This is not ok."
Soon after her photo and video were shared by others and went viral on social media, Watters said administrators suspended her for five days, citing a violation of policies about cell phone usage at school and taking photographs of minors, according to BuzzFeed News.
The outlet reported that school principal Gabe Carmona, who did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment, had warned students over the intercom that anyone who criticized the school on social media risked discipline.
Explaining why she felt obligated to share her school's pandemic safety practices, Watters told BuzzFeed News she felt as though "they have not been safe."
"Many people are not following CDC guidelines because the county did not make these precautions mandatory," the student explained.
"This morning my school called and they have deleted my suspension. To everyone supporting me, I can’t thank you enough," she wrote. "If I’m not responding it’s because my life has been somewhat crazy the past few days. Once again thank you."
Neither Watters nor a spokesperson for North Paulding High immediately responded to PEOPLE's requests for comment.
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In the photo and video posted by Watters, students appear to be walking through a crowded hallway without following recommended social distancing measures, and with only some of the students in protective masks.
"I was concerned for the safety of everyone in that building and everyone in the county because precautions that the CDC and guidelines that the CDC has been telling us for months now, weren't being followed," Watters told CNN.
Paulding County Schools Superintendent Brian Otott wrote a message to parents on Tuesday, which was obtained by TMZ. In the memo, Otott explained why the hallway appeared to be so packed with students.
"Class changes at the high school level are a challenge when maintaining a specific schedule. It is an area we are continuing to work on in this new environment to find practicable ways to further limit students from congregating," Otott reportedly wrote. "Students are in this hallway environment for just a brief period as they move to their next class."
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"... There is no question that the photo does not look good," Otott added. "... Wearing a mask is a personal choice, and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them."
Otott did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
Watters explained to CNN that her "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."
As of Friday afternoon, there have been at least 189,300 cases and 3,942 deaths attributed to coronavirus in Georgia, according to The New York Times.
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