Crowded school hallway photos rightly drew attention to flawed policy

The Editorial Board’s Opinion

A photograph, they say, is worth a thousand words.

And the images from inside North Paulding High School said it all: Students packed into a hallway, many of them without masks.

That alone would be disturbing.

But the story didn’t end there.

School officials took the unusual step of suspending two students who posted the pictures, saying the photographs, captured on the students’ cellphones, violated the district’s rules. The punishments drew pointed reactions on social media and from rights advocates.

To the district’s credit, it eventually remembered that everyone – yes, even students – have a right to free speech, and it lifted the punishments.

By then, the damage had been done.

The school was thrust into the national spotlight and found itself at the center of a debate over school safety – and free speech.

Worse, a half-dozen students and three staffers have already been diagnosed with COVID-19, just days after the school opened.

And it will now shut down and resort to virtual learning for a few days.

That the school doesn’t require students or staff to wear masks only exacerbated the troubles.

In a letter to parents over the weekend, Paulding’s superintendent promised that the district was taking precautions, such as thoroughly disinfecting the school and trying to determine if others might be infected.

It’s now time for the superintendent to make sure the district does everything within its power to keep students safe. Period.

No more jam-packed hallways. No more students without masks. And no more suspensions.

After all, let’s not forget the First Amendment – even during a pandemic.

The Editorial Board.