Georgia High School, Where Photos of Crowded Hallways Went Viral, Reports 6 Students With COVID

Six students tested positive for the novel coronavirus after attending classes at North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia, last week. The school's principal confirmed their diagnoses, in addition to three others identified among faculty members, on Saturday.

Reports of North Paulding's COVID-19 cases comes several days after the school reopened its doors for in-person instruction. The administration's approach to managing potential transmission quickly raised national concerns, when photos of the school's hallways—crowded with unmasked students—went viral on social media.

"At this time, we know there were six students and three staff members who were in school for at least some time last week who have since reported to us that they have tested positive," wrote Gabe Carmona, the principal of North Paulding High School, in a letter originally sent to parents on Saturday.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained and published a copy of the letter, which noted that "custodial staff continues to thoroughly clean and disinfect the school building" each day.

"The health and well-being of our staff and students remains our highest priority," Carmona added. He said the school is adjusting protocols on an ongoing basis to ensure "the safest possible learning environment."

North Paulding does not require students or staff to wear face masks while inside the building, nor do 33 other schools throughout the surrounding district. According to a report obtained by WSB-TV, Paulding County School District identified more than 50 positive COVID-19 cases between July 1 and August 5.

Following the release of two photos picturing North Paulding's packed hallways last week, Dr. Brian Otott, superintendent of the Paulding County School District, defended the absence of a mask mandate, citing its large student population.

"Under the COVID-19 protocols we have adopted, class changes that look like this may happen, especially at a high school with more than 2,000 students," Otott said in a statement. "Keep in mind that this situation complies with Georgia Department of Education's Path to Recovery for K-12 Schools (developed in coordination with the Georgia Department of Public Health) where they recommend schools limit the congregation of students during transitions to the 'extent practicable.'"

The school district's defense of its mask policy, and response to students who posted the crowded hallway photos, drew widespread criticism online. North Paulding originally suspended the two students responsible for posting the photos to Twitter during the first few days of classes. Their suspensions were rescinded as of Friday.

— Paulding County BOE (@pauldingboe) August 7, 2020

"Following a review of a situation at North Paulding High School that resulted in the suspension of two students, the principal of NPHS [North Paulding High School] notified the students today that their suspensions have been rescinded and all records of the suspensions deleted," wrote Otott in a statement.

"The school district's policy is to not comment on specific student discipline matters," he continued. "However, due to significant national interest in the issue at North Paulding High School, parents of both students granted the district permission to confirm that the suspensions have been rescinded."

Newsweek reached out to North Paulding High School for additional comments, but did not receive a reply in time for publication.

Spain School COVID
A student in Madrid, Spain, uses a face sensor to check his temperature before entering his school building to pick up books on May 25. Six students and three faculty members have tested positive for COVID-19 at a high school in Georgia, where photos of crowded hallways went viral online last week. Miguel Pereira/Getty