Georgia Schools Chief: Don’t penalize students for expressing their concerns

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Georgia State Superintendent Richard Woods is weighing in on concerns that students are being disciplined for sharing photos of crowded hallways in schools that have reopened.

Woods called on school leaders to operate with transparency and said students should not be penalized when they express concerns.

“To be very clear, discipline decisions are constitutionally the purview of local boards of education. With that said, I want to encourage our districts and schools to operate with transparency, and to ensure that students and staff are not penalized for expressing their concerns,” Woods said.

With regard to the crowded hallways. Woods reminded local school leaders to follow the state’s guidelines for reopening which address social distancing in hallways.

Those guidelines recommend providing additional time for transitions, creating lanes as flow paths to keep students separated, staggering class changes by room number or hallway, and having the same group of students stay with the same staff all day.

Woods also reminded school leaders of the importance of masks in their reopening plans.

“Additionally, while the use of face coverings/masks is not mandated by the state, it is strongly recommended in settings where social distancing is difficult to accomplish – including hallway transitions. Local school districts do have the authority to require face coverings as part of their dress code policy,” Woods said.

Woods’ comments come after photos of crowded hallways in Paulding and Cherokee Counties made the rounds on social media and after rumors that students who posted pictures were suspended or disciplined.

In an audio clip shared on Twitter, North Paulding High School Principal Gabe Carmona is heard telling students not to share images or videos on social media that cast the school in a negative light and warns of “consequences” for those sharing the information.

The tweet containing the audio is posted below.

In his statement, Woods also asked school leaders to be cognizant of the fact that this is a new situation for schools to adapt to.

“I recognize that this situation is brand-new for everyone navigating it. We are forging this path together, and the Georgia Department of Education continues to stand in support of Georgia’s school leaders, teachers, students, parents, and families,” Woods said.

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