Fire These Free Speech-Chilling School Administrators

Hannah Watters, a sophomore at North Paulding High School outside Atlanta, took a cell phone photo of her school’s crowded  hallways showing few students wearing masks.  She posted it to social media, and the school suspended her.
Then Hannah’s mother, Lynne Watters, spoke with the school’s principal by phone. The school immediately backed down, and said her daughter  would not be suspended, nor would a suspension  appear on her daughter’s record. That’s nice, but it’s too late. You can’t undue blatant intimidation designed to crush basic rights. The fact that she would be suspended at all, regardless of how long, because the school was embarrassed by its own conduct shows an administration that will abuse its power to cover up its incompetence.

Time to clean house. Fire them all.

To compound their flagrant exhibition of bad ethics, bullying and totalitarian inclinations, the administrators tried to lie their way out of this. The principal originally told Hannah’s mother that the girl was suspended for violating the high school’s code of conduct, including using a cell phone during school hours, using social media during school hours, and violating student privacy by photographing them.  But Hannah posted the photo to social media after regular school hours. North Paulding High School students are allowed to use their cell phones during class.

The Paulding County School District’s Superintendent Brian Otott said in a letter to the community that the photo was taken “out of context, and wrote,

“Class changes at the high school level are a challenge when maintaining a specific schedule. 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. … 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.”

How can he say the photo was out of context? It showed a scene, in the school, that showed that students were not following best practices regarding the Wuhan virus. More malarkey: masks are a personal choice in a school and there is no way to enforce a mandate to wear them? How stupid does this guy think parents are? When I went to high school, there was a tie mandate for boys, and you bet the school enforced  it—and the requirement had no identifiable purpose whatsoever. (It didn’t survive my senior year.) Of course a school could require students to wear masks.

Hannah admits she broke the policy on posting images of students to social media, but she doesn’t regret it. “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.”

She’s a true whistleblower. I also strongly suspect that posting a photo of a student on social media is not typically punished by suspension.

The school and school district attempted to punish Hannah for revealing their incompetence. They knew they had no basis to do so, and backed down immediately as soon as they were challenged. They knew they would have to back down, but felt it was worth it to send a message to other students that unacceptable speech—unacceptable to the powers that be, that is—would have unpleasant consequences. This is why so many in our rising generations have no appreciation of basic American values: the people who we entrust their minds to often have no appreciation of them either.

The best way to teach students that freedom of speech and expression must not be discouraged in our democracy by intimidation and threats is to send the administrators at North Paulding High School packing.


15 thoughts on “Fire These Free Speech-Chilling School Administrators

  1. My guess is the principal will shortly be reassigned to some other administrative position. Also, I believe that students will no longer be able to use their cell phones during class or recess except with special permission from administration. There is an expectation of privacy on school grounds and this photo might embarrass some of the students without masks and possibly lead to attacks on social media.

    • Yeah, just like pedophile priests in Boston were “reassigned” to new parishes to cover up their hideous crimes. If you haven’t seen “Spotlight” you should: most important is that the archbishop of Boston — key to the cover-up — was eventually ‘reassigned’ to the most prestigious church at the Vatican, and at the end of the film, four full screens, three columns each,of cities around the world that have uncovered child abuse by priests.

      Sorry, but it’s not just free speech: it’s the minds and hearts of our children. Fire them, don’t ‘reassign’ them.

      The best decision our family ever made was to take our son out of two private schools and homeschool him. He is curious, thoughtful, an independent thinker, and impervious to cant and ideology.

  2. I may not be impartial since I’ve been in the profession since I was 17 but what the school district — the government — did was punish this student for committing journalism. Unless they can show a national security issue regarding a photo of a high school corridor in suburban Atlanta, the government can not do that. And to respond to your observation, “More malarkey: masks are a personal choice in a school and there is no way to enforce a mandate to wear them?” I’d suggest asking for historical records regarding how many students get sent home for violating the district’s dress code. They can enforce shorts being too short or an offensive t-shirt, but not mask wearing?

  3. For some reason the first comment I posted disappeared. Anyway, my guess is that the principal will shortly be reassigned to another administrative position. There is an expectation of privacy on school grounds so I think that cell phones will hence forth be prohibited from being used to take pictures of other students except with special permission from administrators. The photos that were taken of students without masks could be embarrassing to them and possibly lead to attacks on social media.

      • Well it’s your decision. As somebody who worked in the public schools for over 20 years I think it’s important for especially elementary age kids to go to school. Low income people can’t afford the luxury of staying home and homeschooling their kids.

  4. This story is also interesting insofar as it shows the absolute absurdity of all this talk about re-opening schools — BUT WITH RESTRICTIONS! SOCIAL DISTANCING! REDUCED CLASS SIZES. SPLIT SESSIONS! Baloney! Let kids go back to school and be in school. Some will get sick and get over it. If there are people with serious infirmities at home, hide them the hell out! Haven’t you already been doing that? This picture could only have been better if it had been of fourth graders NOT socially distancing on the playground or around a water fountain or playing tag. Get real, school administrators. If you’re terrified of getting sued or catching a flu, get a job at Wendy’s or just curl up in a ball and wait for Nancy Pelosi to get you 800 dollars a week for doing nothing.

  5. They have no way to enforce a mask mandate, but have one of those kids wear a T-shirt with a drawing of an AR-15, or an NRA logo, and they’d suddenly have a plethora of tools to punish ’em for that.

  6. I’m not even sure where to begin with this one and the comments that I’ve read… It’s Saturday morning, I have to be at work in a couple hours, and I doubt that anyone who reads my comment will change his/her mind about this photo and its implications regarding school policy, etc. But I’ve started, so here we go.

    First of all, though it probably doesn’t get dealt with nearly enough to make a difference, most schools do indeed have a policy about posting classrooms or other students/activities on social media. I’d have to go find the policy from my district, but I am sure one exists. So the principal, no doubt feeling blindsided by the parent and student involved, used the policy to suspend the kid. (This would be the same idea as the above-mentioned student getting suspended for taking a pic of the sink – you are most definitely NOT allowed to take pictures in a public school bathroom!) The suspension has been lifted, of course due to cancel culture coming from the side other than the usual one, but I’m guessing the policy is enforceable. I always told my students to remember, due to “in loco parentis,” that they don’t have as many rights INside the school as they do OUTside of it.

    As far as the admin’s excuse about not being able to enforce a mask mandate, truer words, as they say. My wife will go back to a classroom in Michigan in a few weeks, where our governor, like her or not, has mandated masks. Georgia HAS NO SUCH MANDATE IN PLACE. As a matter of fact, the small government, local control loving GOP governor in that state has signed an executive order banning counties and cities from enacting one! So of course the school can’t effectively enforce one. It literally goes against state law!

    In a large HS setting such as this one, there indeed is no effective way to thin out hallway traffic. The picture shows one of the many shortcomings that, in spite of the best efforts of administration, committees, individual teachers, etc., we just can’t figure out. Sometimes the best way to figure it out is to let it run for a few days and see what changes can be made, but we are talking about a potentially deadly virus here, so there’s that.

    Bottom line: I see ethics violations on both sides. The principal had to know this would be a problem if the student was suspended. And the kid had to know the problems that the picture would cause. So which side was in the right? The student broke the rules. Maybe the rule is stupid, but it’s there. Privacy needs to exist somehow, though in this day and age it is a far different definition than it once was. I hope schools figure it out soon, because obviously technology like this is here to stay.

    • Expectation of privacy? The backs of their heads? There is a random photo of me in my high school year book walking in the hallway talking to a classmate. I don’t recall being asked if it was okay for someone to take the shot. I don’t recall giving permission to the yearbook to include it in the yearbook. I don’t understand this recently occurring obsession with not taking photos of people in public places. Who cares? What’s the harm?

      • You legally can take pictures of people in a public place like at the beach, a park, etc. because there is no expectation of privacy. Schools are another matter. Even taking pictures of the backs of students heads who are not wearing masks could expose them to attacks by community members who have an agenda on social media.

      • OB, I am guessing that you, like me, graduated several decades ago, before the idea of a consent form was floated. Every year in school districts across the country, parents are sent an “opt-out” form, with which they can inform the school that their child is NOT to be photographed for district websites, publications, publicity, etc. This may be a weak argument for that situation, but school administrators are highly tuned in to anything that might cause a lawsuit. As Wayne says, the exposure of students in this photo could indeed lead to them becoming harassed for not wearing masks or whatever else.

        • What exposure did THAT photo risk? Only the school’s incompetence. Talk about a technical violation. Again, a suspension would be grossly excessive. A few hours of detention, or having to listen to a Nancy Pelosi speech, would be appropriate.

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