Student's school suspension revoked after her photo of crowded hallway goes viral

The image showed students packed together, with some not wearing masks.

ByLena Camilletti
August 7, 2020, 3:03 PM

A student suspended within 24 hours of posting to social media a photo of a crowded hallway at her school has had her punishment revoked, her mother confirmed to ABC News.

Hannah Watters, 15, is a 10th grader at North Paulding High School (NPHS) in Dallas, Georgia, where on Tuesday she photographed her peers shoulder to shoulder, mostly ignoring social distancing guidelines. A number of other students also weren't wearing masks.

"Going in [to school] I was nervous, but trusting that Paulding would keep us safe," Hannah told ABC News. "But it was worse than I thought it was going to be. I didn't feel safe, especially coming home to family after going to school."

Frustrated with the difficulty of keeping a safe distance from other students, Watters shared her image on Twitter shortly after classes were dismissed on Tuesday. School administrators swiftly took action, suspending Hannah.

PHOTO: In this photo posted on Twitter, students crowd a hallway, Aug. 4, 2020, at North Paulding High School in Dallas, Ga.
In this photo posted on Twitter, students crowd a hallway, Aug. 4, 2020, at North Paulding High School in Dallas, Ga.
Hannah Watters/Twitter via AP

"I didn't think it would get anywhere, so when it did, I got a little nervous -- what if people get mad at me?" Hannah said. "But I realized that if they get mad at me, it's not as bad as if someone at school were to die from COVID-19."

Hannah's photo emerged as educators, parents and politicians throughout the country are attempting to navigate the immediate future of in-person public education amid the spread of a virus that's killed more than 150,000 Americans in just five months. Georgia has seen nearly 200,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 3,000 deaths.

In a letter sent to all NPHS parents, Paulding County Superintendent Dr. Brian Otott claimed her photo was "taken out of context."

"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," the letter read. Addressing the students seen without masks, the superintendent's letter said that although face coverings are strongly encouraged, ultimately they're a personal choice because "there's no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them."

On Wednesday, the same day Hannah was notified of her suspension, an announcement was made over the intercom at NPHS in which students were warned of "consequences" should they distribute photos or videos that negatively impact the school's reputation.

Lynne Watters, Hannah's mom, wrote a letter to the principal of NPHS objecting to her daughter's punishment. With Hannah's suspension lifted Friday morning, she's expected back at school on Monday.

Neither NPHS administrators nor the Paulding County Board of Education responded to requests for comment from ABC News.

ABC News' Stephanie Wash contributed to this report.