Nine cases of coronavirus were reported Saturday in a Georgia high school that hit national headlines over viral pictures of its maskless students packed into hallways.
North Paulding High School confirmed six new cases among students and three infections of staff members less than a week after school resumed in a letter to parents.
The school did not provide details on whether the new cases were in quarantine, how many others may have been exposed, or whether it would be changing its safety measures which does not require students to wear masks.
It also didn’t give any notice of whether classrooms could be shut down.
As a result, a whistleblower hotline has been created by a local representative to allow students and staff to raise concerns about the safety measures being taken in their schools.
North Paulding High School went viral this week after student Hannah Watters shared photos and video on Twitter Tuesday of her classmates crowding into hallways during the first week back. The school has now confirmed nine coronavirus cases among staff and students
Images shared earlier this week showed few students wearing masks in the crowded hallways. The school has said it can not force students to wear masks despite the confirmed cases
Georgia House Rep Beth Moore has called for students and staff to share their stories
The letter from Principal Gabe Carmona said they would continue to update the school community on cases and that intensive cleaning protocols were still in place.
‘Our custodial staff continues to thoroughly clean and disinfect the school building daily, and especially affected areas,’ Carmona wrote.
‘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 health and well-being of our staff and students remains our biggest priority, and we are continuing to adjust and improve our protocols for in-person instruction to make our school the safest possible learning environment,’ he added.
Angie Franks told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that two of her nephews were among the students to test positive at the school this week.
One of the boys returned home from school Monday with no sense of smell and was immediately taken to be tested.
His brother also began to display symptoms and they were confirmed with coronavirus Wednesday.
They have since been quarantining at home but Franks voiced concern about the other students that may have exposed Monday.
The letter sent by Principal Gabe Carmona to parents confirming the new cases
The school has confirmed far more cases than any other in the district since July 1
‘They sat in class all day long with no masks and not social distancing,’ Franks said. ‘And I have no idea how many kids they came into contact with.’
She added that they had not been encouraged to wear masks in classrooms and hallways, and that the boys had not understood the gravity of the situation.
It comes as WSB TV Atlanta reports that the school has confirmed 23 coronavirus cases since July 1, far more than any other school in the distract.
There have been 53 cases reported since the start of July in Paulding County schools but the majority only have one confirmed case.
Schools did not begin in-person tuition until August 3.
In response to the viral images, Georgia State House Rep. Beth Moore established an anonymous whistleblower email account Friday for students, teachers and administrators to send pictures, videos and testimonials of the situation in their schools.
She has since posted several worrying claims that one school county board has tested positive for coronavirus and that in another school, teachers have yet to be supplied with protective and cleaning equipment.
Georgia state rep Beth Moore shares clams a school county board member has coronavirus
She has established a whistleblower hotline and is sharing teachers’ stories
One teacher claimed the staff have not been supplied with the cleaning products needed
‘This tweet has only been up for 1 hour & already I’ve received a disturbing tip of a county school board member testing positive, not telling anyone, & going to lunch at a restaurant a few days later,’ she wrote in a tweet Friday.
‘It’s the same failure of leadership at the state & federal level.’
One teacher in Gwinnett claimed that teachers were forced into an in-person meeting, where not everyone wore masks and those who attempted to social distance were told to move closer.
‘My principal is wonderful and I feel she is being pushed to do things that she knows aren’t right or feasible either,’ the teacher wrote.
Another teacher from the same district claimed the school’s custodian was almost in tears telling teachers that they did not have enough cleaning supplies to give teachers for their classrooms.
‘He said that if it is not provided soon, he will leave because he doesn’t want to feel responsible for people getting sick or God forbid – dying,’ they wrote.
They added that teachers had not been told where to isolate students if they are confirmed to have coronavirus during school hours and that no extra custodial staff have been hired to assist with the extra cleaning.
Video shared to social media earlier this week showed the crowded hallways as students changed classes at North Paulding High School in Georgia. Few students wore masks
North Paulding high school went viral earlier this week after two students shared images of the crowded hallways on social media.
The students, including 15-year-old Hannah Watters, were initially suspended over posting the images.
It later reversed its decision on Watters’ suspension but the status of the other unnamed student’s punishment is not known.
Hannah Watters said the school told her she was being suspended for violating the code of conduct by using a cellphone and social media in school hours and violating student privacy by photographing them
‘This morning my school called and they have deleted my suspension,’ Watters said.
‘To be 100 percent clear, I can go back to school on Monday. I couldn’t have done this without all the support, thank you.’
Watters had earlier said the school told her she was being suspended for violating the code of conduct by using a cellphone and social media in school hours and violating student privacy by photographing them.
After the photos went viral, Paulding County School District superintendent Brian Otott sent a letter out to parents acknowledging it didn’t look good.
‘There is no question that the photo does not good,’ he wrote.
‘Wearing a mask is a personal choice and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them. What we will do is continue to strongly encourage all students and staff to wear masks.’
There is no statewide mask mandate in the state of Georgia.
Otott went on to say that the photos were taken out of context and defended the district’s reopening plan, saying the protocols were in compliance with the state’s rules.
‘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.
‘Class changes at the high school level are a challenge when maintaining a specific schedule.
‘Students are in this hallway environment for just a brief period as they move to their next class.’
The 15-year-old tweeted on Friday morning that the school had decided to reverse the suspension. She had posted images of the packed school hallways on Tuesday
Another , who has not been publicly named, was also suspended after a photo they took on Monday went viral. It is not yet clear if that student’s suspension has also been reversed
The school district, which began in-person classes Monday with mask-optional policies, came under fire when the photos and video emerged showing students packed shoulder-to-shoulder.
In the photos, which were taken on Monday and Tuesday, fewer than half of the students shown are wearing masks.
Watters told CNN that she posted the photos because she worried about the safety of students and teachers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘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,’ Watters said.
She went on to reference the late John Lewis by saying: ‘I’d like to say this is some good and necessary trouble.
‘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.’
In the Cherokee County School District, staff and students at one school were forced to begin another 14-day quarantine this week after a second-grader tested positive after their first day back.
On Saturday, Georgia confirmed the death of a seven-year-old boy from coronavirus complications who had no preexisting conditions. He has contracted the virus after attending church.
The state now has more than 209,000 cases and over 4,117 deaths with an 11.92 percent positivity rate.