School bus photo by H. Michael Miley, Creative Commons license 2.0

By now, you've probably seen the photos of a crowded Georgia high school hallway that went viral — in all senses of the word — earlier this week. Congratulations, North Paulding High School, you're in the news!

Buzzfeed News reports that while the photos are scary enough on their own, the facts on the ground (please disinfect your shoes) are perhaps even worse. Teachers, students, and parents are worried that the school rushed its reopening, and that the new school year may end up being memorable for all the wrong reasons, like the In Memoriam kind. The high school opened up right on schedule Monday, even though there were already diagnosed cases of COVID-19 among students and at least one staffer. On the other hand, Donald Trump wants schools opened, and Donald Trump got 69 percent of the vote in Paulding County in 2016. Isn't that nice?


The school, in the Atlanta exurbs, opened for in-person classes even though several members of the school's f'ball team tested positive following a charity fundraiser held in a "crowded indoor gym last week," complete with inspirational (and respirational) video posted to Facebook.

The school's parents were notified just hours before the first day of class.

And multiple teachers at North Paulding say there are positive tests among school staff, including a staff member who came into contact with most teachers at the school while exhibiting symptoms last week.

Fortunately, nobody has to think too much about their coworkers maybe being superspreaders, because the school district won't confirm whether staff are infected or not. That's private medical information, so administrators won't even confirm infections without releasing names. Such respect for workers is truly impressive!

Buzzfeed notes that while the school district did offer the "choice" of signing up for online classes, the enrollment window was very brief, and many families couldn't get their kids signed up, meaning they had to attend in person or risk being expelled.

And despite the cases already detected before school started, the high school merely strongly suggests the wearing of masks, because freedom and liberty and personal choice. The school also acknowledged that social distancing "will not be possible to enforce" in "most cases." But at least it provided face masks or transparent face shields to teachers who personally chose to use them, what more do you want?

As for those damn pictures, the school administration has been quick to react, by reassuring everyone they shouldn't get the wrong idea. In a statement, Paulding County Schools Superintendent Brian Otott explained there's almost nothing to worry about, because while "there is no question that the photo does not look good," the school is actually in compliance with guidelines from the Georgia Department of Education. Surely the state of Georgia wouldn't play fast and loose with people's health!

Besides, said Otott, impressively mangling the science, there's no way those crowded hallways can be dangerous, because out-of-context-science tip!

Students are in this hallway environment for just a brief period as they move to their next class. I have attached a document from the Department of Public Health that states exposure to COVID-19 occurs after "Being within 6 feet of a sick person with COVID-19 for about 15 minutes."

Except nah, because even the guidelines Otott linked to point out you can get a full viral load if, for instance, an infected person coughs in your face. (Or if you're making out in the orchestra pit when you should be in algebra, don't deny it you two.) More on that from the Washington Post:

Stephen Kissler, a postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said students were at higher risk of exposure when clustered together. Limiting close contact to 15 minutes or less was "a good rule of thumb," he told The Washington Post, "but if you have a bunch of students crowding into classrooms without masks, there is still a chance of spread."

And yes, this seems a good place to note that high school classes run longer than 15 minutes. (Good lord, are they holding choir classes?)

Otott's statement goes on to explain that while the school has "received a good deal of feedback" on the matter of mask use,

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.

Hold on a damn minute: a public school in the American South can't enforce a mask mandate? We are talking here about an America where high school girls regularly have their hemlines policed, where having bare arms can get you kicked out of the Honor Society, where the school will digitally remove the word "Feminist" from the shirt you wore for class photos, and where being Black and having a hairstyle can be cause for suspension.

But while schools can give you an in-school suspension for not tucking in your shirt, a measure that would increase students' and teachers' chances of surviving the school year is just a bridge too far.

Happily, North Paulding High does seem to have the wherewithal to make sure students comply in other areas than public health. In an announcement over the intercom, Principal Gabe Carmona warned students that if they portrayed the school in a "negative" light on social media, they would face "consequences." It's like that silly Beach Boys song, "Be True To Your School If You Know What's Good For You."

There are also reports on social media that the student who took the initial photo of crowded hallways has been suspended, but we haven't seen any confirmation of that yet. Gosh, it sure sounds unlikely in a place so devoted to learning and openness.

[Buzzfeed News / WaPo]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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