Photos circulating on social media show the first days back at North Paulding High in Dallas, Georgia with students filling the halls and many not wearing masks.
School documents state that the administration will “strongly encourage” wearing a mask but it is a “personal choice” and will be not be mandated.
Football players from the school recently tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to a letter from the school principal to parents, raising concerns that the virus could spread widely among students.
Students at a Georgia high school returned to classes August 3, only to unexpectedly get internet fame a day later after photos of their packed hallways circulated widely on Reddit and Twitter.
The images showed hallways at North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia, filled with students shoulder-to-shoulder, many of whom did not appear to be wearing masks.
Another Paulding student also shared photos and videos on the second day of school, with similarly crowded spaces.
These images, confirmed to Insider as photos of North Paulding by current and former students, offer a striking preview of what school reopenings could look like as health officials, politicians, and parents hotly debate the issue, weighing research that the virus could spread widely against the toll of keeping students home away from the resources districts can provide.
It also appears in stark contrast to how schools around the world have reopened with clear social distancing and protective measures like mask-wearing widely implemented.
Wearing a mask is a ‘personal choice,’ according to school policy
Clear evidence suggests that masks slow the spread of the virus.
A document from the school district states that wearing a mask is a “personal choice” and that district official “strongly encourage” it but have not mandated it. The document also states that social distancing “will be employed as is feasible and practical.”
The school district said that the photos do ‘not look good’
The superintendent of the district, Brian Otott, sent out an email August 4 in response to the photos spreading on social media, confirming they depict North Paulding High School.
Referring to the first image to be widely-shared, Otott said “there is no question that the photo does not look good,” and that he understood concerns. But he took aim at people “using it to criticize without context our school reopening efforts.”
Otott said students pass through hallways only briefly. He also cited the state’s Department of Health, which advised that the real risk is being within six feet of a contagious person for 15 minutes or more.
The district, which serves 30,000 students, is going forward with previous plans to switch to remote learning for two days this week, August 6-7, so “schools can step back and assess how things are going so far.”
“It is unfortunate that in the age of instant communication these issues can escalate so quickly without sufficient context,” Otott wrote in the email.
Representatives from the school district did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some North Paulding students have already tested positive for the coronavirus
Students at the North Paulding High School football team tested positive for the coronavirus and began showing symptoms prior to the first day of school, according to a letter from school principal Gabe Caroma to parents. As a result, football practice was temporarily cancelled.
The letter notes that affected football players may have had contact with other students, and urges parents to monitor their children for symptoms.