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. pic.twitter.com/JKbGYqG9RS
— hannah (@ihateiceman) August 4, 2020
This is what it looks like even with split dismissal. pic.twitter.com/erCA2lhOUb
— hannah (@ihateiceman) August 4, 2020
That’s at North Paulding High School in Georgia, where the statewide COVID positivity rate has been north of 10 percent since late June. Just because the state’s epidemic is still churning doesn’t mean the situation at the school is bad, though, right? Well, turns out there’s an outbreak on the football team, who had worked out together indoors a week before the diagnoses. Parents were notified just hours before the first day of class, says BuzzFeed. Some members of the school staff have reportedly tested positive as well although the number was still unknown as of two days ago.
Why are they operating in business-as-usual mode under those circumstances?
At least kids are wearing masks. Except, no, they’re not: The school district has made mask-wearing a “personal choice” for students even though, by its own admission, social distancing in the building isn’t always possible. And if you’re thinking that families who are worried can always opt for remote learning instead, nope, also not true. Per BuzzFeed, all the “slots” reserved for that filled up quickly. (Why are there “slots” for a virtual experience? Isn’t capacity limitless?) Everyone else either has to show up in person or face suspension/expulsion.
Just to make things a little more onerous and the school’s PR fiasco a little more nightmarish, Hannah Watters, the student who snapped the pic of an ominously crowded hallway, was slapped with a suspension for violating rules against using smart phones during school hours and taking people’s photos without permission. And in case that wasn’t enough of a lesson to the student body not to make trouble for administrators, “On Wednesday, an intercom announcement at the school from principal Gabe Carmona said any student found criticizing the school on social media could face discipline.”
News that a kid was being punished for exposing a dangerous situation at a public school brought out lawyers on social media rattling their legal sabers about First Amendment violations. And so, inevitably, Watters has been un-suspended:
This morning my school called and they have deleted my suspension. To everyone supporting me, I can’t thank you enough. If I’m not responding it’s because my life has been somewhat crazy the past few days. Once again thank you. ❤️
— hannah (@ihateiceman) August 7, 2020
The school’s superintendent put out a letter alleging that the photo Watters took was misleading, with some justification. Kids have to be able to move around the building when a period ends and they head off to their next class. Lingering in a crowded hallway would be bad. Passing each other quickly en route to class is … not optimal, but unavoidable. But that doesn’t answer the other objection. Where are the masks?
Masks are not required at the school, Mr. Otott said, though the administration strongly encourages them for students and staff members.
“Wearing a mask is a personal choice, and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them,” he wrote, adding that more than 2,000 students attend the high school.
There’s no practical way to enforce a mandate across the general public, but if ever there were a place where authorities might be able to ensure higher compliance, it’s at school. Make masks mandatory on pain of detention or some other form of discipline if a student is caught without one. Kids will still cheat when they think no one’s looking but at least they’ll wear the masks when someone is. Saying there’s no way to enforce a mandate to wear a mask is like saying there’s no way to enforce a mandate against bringing drugs onto school grounds. That rule’s going to be broken too. Is that a reason not to have it in the first place?
Should kids also consider wearing pants optional since there’s no practical way to enforce a pants mandate either?
Read Avik Roy’s new op-ed at the WSJ making the case for reopening most schools. Experiences this year in Europe and beyond suggest that it can be done reasonably safely for younger children, Roy notes. That jibes with a recent South Korean study suggesting that younger kids are less infectious. Among those Hannah Watters’s age, though, things start to get dicey. Says Roy, “The Israeli experience, along with a recent outbreak at a Georgia summer camp, suggest that while high-schoolers themselves are at little risk of severe illness or death from Covid-19, they are capable of serving as reservoirs of the virus and of transmission to adults, particularly when infection rates are high.” By “the Israeli experience,” he means this:
Confident it had beaten the coronavirus and desperate to reboot a devastated economy, the Israeli government invited the entire student body back in late May…
The virus rippled out to the students’ homes and then to other schools and neighborhoods, ultimately infecting hundreds of students, teachers and relatives.
Other outbreaks forced hundreds of schools to close. Across the country, tens of thousands of students and teachers were quarantined…
“They definitely should not do what we have done,” said Eli Waxman, a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science and chairman of the team advising Israel’s National Security Council on the pandemic. “It was a major failure.”
We’re definitely going to do what they did — not nationwide, perhaps, but certainly many school districts where community case counts are low will end up trying to get back to normal too quickly. That was Israel’s fatal mistake, per the Times: “The lesson, experts say, is that even communities that have gotten the spread of the virus under control need to take strict precautions when reopening schools. Smaller classes, mask wearing, keeping desks six feet apart and providing adequate ventilation, they say, are likely to be crucial until a vaccine is available.”
That’s not what we’re seeing at North Paulding High and not what we’re going to be seeing at a lot of other American schools. But let’s go ahead and reopen anyway, because if one thing is clear from America’s pandemic experience thus far it’s that we only learn lessons the hard way. Get all of the schools open as soon as possible, seed the outbreaks to prove to people that kids aren’t magically immune, and then we’ll all huddle and figure out a Plan B in late September or early October. I’m guessing Plan B is just going to be a raft of parents yanking their kids out of class and switching to some on-the-fly method of homeschooling:
Here’s Watters with a John Lewis reference for CNN’s viewers.
GA student suspended after posting image of crowded school doesn’t regret it: “This is some good and necessary trouble…” pic.twitter.com/sU6HruLV85
— The Recount (@therecount) August 7, 2020