Georgia School Won't Enforce Masks, But Sunglasses Are Banned

The superintendent of a school district in Georgia said recent viral photos showing students in crowded corridors not wearing masks have been taken out of context while claiming there is no "practical way" to make sure pupils cover their faces despite imposing what they can or cannot wear.

The North Paulding High School in Dallas has become a center point in the debate about the reopening of schools amid the coronavirus pandemic after two images went viral on social media this week.

The first image posted by a student onto Twitter on the first day back appeared to show only a handful wearing masks in a crowded corridor. The tweet has since been shared more than 34,000 times on the social media site.

On the second day, another student uploaded another picture of students not being able to social distance at the school and few wearing masks.

"It is just as bad. We were stopped because it was jammed," the second student wrote. "We are close enough to the point where I got pushed multiple....This is not ok. Not to mention the 10% mask rate."

According to reports, both students have been suspended from school after posting the photos showing the crowded corridors.

"I expressed my concerns and disagreement with that punishment," one of the student's mother Lynne Watters, told The New York Times.

This is the first day of school in Paulding County, Georgia.

— 🇯🇲Black🇭🇹 Aziz 🇳🇬aNANsi🇹🇹 (@Freeyourmindkid) August 4, 2020

Day two at North Paulding High School. It is just as bad. We were stopped because it was jammed. We are close enough to the point where I got pushed multiple go to second block. This is not ok. Not to mention the 10% mask rate.

— hannah (@ihateiceman) August 4, 2020

In a letter to the community, Brian Otott, superintendent of the Paulding County School District, condemned those who he accused of posting images on social media "without context to criticize our school reopening efforts."

Otott explained that the corridors are briefly busier than usual when students are walking between classes and the Georgia Department of Education recommended schools limit pupils congregating during such times to the "extent practicable."

However, Otott admitted that "there is no question the photo does not look good."

The superintendent added in the letter that while it is encouraging students to wear masks, it is not requiring them to do so while in school.

"Wearing a mask is a personal choice and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them," he wrote. "What we will do is continue to strongly encourage all students and staff to wear masks."

Speaking to The Washington Post, Ravina Kullar, an infectious-disease specialist, and spokeswoman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, described Otott's reasoning as "mind-boggling."

"You get detention for not tucking in your shirt," she said. "It is possible to impose certain rules."

Just like virtually all schools, North Paulding High imposes a long list of approved and banned clothing for students.

According to their own code, students at North Paulding High cannot wear any headgear—including sweatbands, sunglasses—deep-scooped necklines, tops which bare the midriff or footwear such as flips flops or tennis shoes.

Otott has been contacted for comment about why the school can impose certain uniform policies but not a mask mandate.

In a statement, Michael Tafelski, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center's children's rights project said both students should have their suspension rescinded.

"Instead of addressing students' concerns about the safety of returning to a school jam-packed with unmasked people during the pandemic, North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia, suspended two students who spoke out on social media and threatened other students if they did the same," Tafelski said.

"We share the outrage expressed by people across the country at these wrongful suspensions, and urge the school district to immediately reverse and remove them from the students' records."

(File photo) Markings are placed on the floor at the Hainberg-Gymnasium due to hygiene reasons caused by the coronavirus crisis on May 12, 2020 in Goettingen, Germany. A school superintendent in Georgia has defended his system’s reopening plan after phoyos showing crowded corridors went viral. Christian Ender/Getty