Viral pictures of few students wearing masks amid COVID-19 pandemic puts metro school in spotlight

Viral pictures of few students wearing masks amid COVID-19 pandemic puts metro school in spotlight

PAULDING COUNTY, Ga. — They are photos that have sparked outrage on social media — students returning to school with few wearing masks inside a packed hallway at a metro area high school.

The photos started going viral on social media once they were released.

Channel 2 Action News has confirmed that photos were taken on the first day of school around dismissal time at North Paulding High School by a 10th grade student named Hannah.

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One photo showed a packed hallway with dozens of students who appear not to be wearing a mask. Another photo showed at least one student wearing a face mask walking with another student who appeared not to have a mask on.

This comes as area schools confirmed that teachers and students have already tested positive for COVID-19 in just the first couple of days of the school year, while other metro districts continue to monitor the virus to determine how to restart classes for the new school year.

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Channel 2 Action News has also obtained a letter sent to parents from the superintendent Paulding County Schools, Dr. Brian Otott.

"There is no question that the photo does not look good. I can understand if your first reaction was one of concern," Otott said in the letter.

The superintendent said the main photo circulating on social media has been taken out of context.

“Some individuals on social media are taking this photo and using it without context to criticize our school reopening efforts,” Otott said. “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 superintendent said the district has more than 33,000 students who are currently learning in person and virtually and that they anticipated adjustments will be needed.

"The Department of Public Health state exposure to COVID-19 occurs after 'Being within 6 feet of sick person with COVID-19 for about 15 minutes," Otott said.

“One area where we have received a good deal of feedback is mask use in our schools. 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.”

Here is the full letter from the superintendent:

Letter sent home to parents of students from North Paulding High School. (PHOTO: Letter obtained by WSB-TV)
Letter sent home to parents of students from North Paulding High School. (PHOTO: Letter obtained by WSB-TV)