9 cases of COVID-19 reported at a school where viral crowded hallway picture was taken

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ATLANTA — At least nine cases of COVID-19 have been reported at a Georgia high school that came under scrutiny this week after a student shared a photo of a crowded hallway, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“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,” North Paulding High School Principal Gabe Carmona said Saturday in a letter to parents obtained by the AJC.

Carmona said the school custodial staff is cleaning and disinfecting the building every day.

“It is my intention to regularly notify the NPHS community of these cases in the interest of transparency and so that we, as a community, can be aware of any trends that arise and respond accordingly,” the principal wrote.

CNN is trying to obtain a copy of the principal’s letter.

News of the cases comes just days after the high school in Dallas, Georgia — about 40 miles from Atlanta — attracted nationwide attention thanks to a photo posted on Twitter by sophomore Hannah Watters. The viral image showed Hannah’s classmates in a crowded school hallway with few visible masks. The school and its district, the Paulding County School District, resumed classes August 3.

“I was concerned for the safety of everyone in that building and everyone in the county because precautions that the CDC and guidelines that the CDC has been telling us for months now, weren’t being followed,” Hannah told CNN Thursday.

It’s just the latest instance of students and teachers testing positive for Covid-19 after returning to school, highlighting the risks of resuming in-person classes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

‘Good and necessary trouble,’ student says

Paulding County Schools Superintendent Brian Otott said in a letter to the community this week that the viral photo was taken out of context and that class changes in high school were a challenge.

“It is an area we are continuing to work on in this new environment to find practicable ways to further limit students from congregating. Students are in this hallway environment for just a brief period as they move to their next class,” Otott said.

He added: “There is no question that the photo does not look good … Wearing a mask is a personal choice, and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them.”‘

Otott’s letter also said the district anticipated needing to make “adjustments.” The district previously decided to make Thursday and Friday virtual learning days for students receiving in-person instruction “so that all of our schools can step back and assess how things are going so far,” Otott said.

Hannah said she was initially suspended for posting the photo. But on Friday, her mother told CNN the suspension had been reversed. Lynne Watters spoke with the school’s principal Friday morning, she said, and was told her daughter would not be suspended and a suspension would not appear on her record. Hannah can return to school on Monday.

Hannah doesn’t regret sharing the photo, she told CNN.

“I’d like to say this is some good and necessary trouble,” she said. “”My biggest concern is not only about me being safe, it’s about everyone being safe because behind every teacher, student and staff member there is a family, there are friends, and I would just want to keep everyone safe.”

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