The photos, which were shared on social media and cited in news reports, have quickly come to symbolize a chaotic first week back in U.S. classrooms. Schools in states where students have returned, including Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Indiana, have had to initiate quarantines and in some cases shut down classrooms and entire schools temporarily become positive cases emerged.
A 15-year-old student at North Paulding, Hannah Watters, was suspended for five days for posting images of the crowded hallways on Twitter, according to her mother, Lynne Watters, who said she filed a grievance with the school on Thursday morning. North Paulding’s principal, Gabe Carmona, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The superintendent of the Paulding County School District, Brian Otott, defended his system’s reopening plan after the hallway photos circulated, saying in a letter to the community that they were taken out of context. Students only remained in the hallways briefly while switching classes, he wrote, and the school was following recommendations issued by the Georgia Department of Education.
But he acknowledged, “There is no question that the photo does not look good.”
Masks are not required at the school, Mr. Otott said, but the administration strongly encourages them for students and staff members.
“Wearing a mask is a personal choice, and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them,” he wrote, adding that more than 2,000 students attend the high school.
The school district did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
The district’s guidelines say staff members will do their best to require students to maintain social distancing, but note that it would “not be possible to enforce social distancing in classrooms or on school buses unless it is a class or a bus with fewer students.”