On August 4 2020, a purported photograph of the first day of school in Paulding County, Georgia circulated on social media — showing a densely crowded school hallway and only a few students wearing masks:
This is the first day of school in Paulding County, Georgia. pic.twitter.com/fzdidaAABM
— 🇯🇲Black🇭🇹Aziz🇳🇬aNANsi🇹🇹 (@Freeyourmindkid) August 4, 2020
Paulding County, Georgia:
First day of school.
4 masks – if you zoom in — and zero social distancing.
This is gonna end badly… pic.twitter.com/pGUwzRr6VN
— Rex Chapman🏇🏼 (@RexChapman) August 4, 2020
The school district has updated its Back to School Q&A with additional questions regarding the Virtual Academy Waiting List and other topics. Download here: https://t.co/u7DkkYutP2
— Paulding County BOE (@pauldingboe) August 4, 2020
It looked as if the image was sourced from an Instagram account since made private via a tweet shared early on the morning of August 3 2020:
First day of 10th grade, 7th grade, 5th grade and first day as a 6th grade science teacher. Watch out Paulding County Schools, these 4 are going to kill it this year! Here is to a safe… https://t.co/A5c1CR6167
— Jamie Corn (@cornjd219) August 3, 2020
Another prominent iteration involved gossip site TMZ, but they provided no information about the source of the image. An article by 11Alive.com didn’t directly feature the photograph, but included reporting about Paulding County’s in-person school attendance estimates.
A headline for that article, “Students who want virtual learning are forced into in-person school because of waiting list,” indicated that families who wished to opt-in to virtual learning were not always able to select that option. While on the waitlist, students were required to attend school in person:
There is no requirement that they [wear masks], even after the principal of North Paulding High School sent a letter to parents telling them that members of the school’s football team had tested positive and that their children may have been exposed, as well.
The school system’s policies, which are posted on the system’s website, say, in part, that “schools will employ social distancing as it is feasible and practical.” As for masks, the schools “will encourage students, teachers, and bus drivers to wear masks… wearing a face mask is a personal choice….”
A school system spokesperson confirms that students on the waiting list for at-home, on-line learning are required to be in school in the meantime.
The spokesperson said that parents of 70 percent of Paulding County’s 31,000 students chose to send their children back to school for in-person classes. That’s nearly 22,000 students. The parents of 30 percent of the students, about 9,000 students, opted for at-home, on-line learning. Information on how many of the 9,000 students are on the waiting list for the on-line learning option was not immediately available.
Although we were unable to confirm the original source for the “first day of school in Paulding, Georgia” image, it began circulating around August 3 2020 — when school officially opened in Paulding County. Reporting indicated that due to a waitlist for online learning, many of the schools students were required to attend classes in person.
On August 5 2020, BuzzFeed News reported that not only were they able to confirm that the photo (and others like it) is real, the situation at the school is even more alarming than the image suggests:
North Paulding High School, about an hour outside Atlanta, reopened Monday despite an outbreak among members of its high school football team, many of whom, a Facebook video shows, worked out together in a crowded indoor gym last week as part of a weightlifting fundraiser.
Within days of that workout, several North Paulding players had tested positive for the coronavirus. 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. Teachers and staff said the school won’t confirm coronavirus infections among district employees, citing privacy reasons.
We have contacted the school district for comment and will update this story when we hear back.
Update 8/6/2020, 8:10 am: Changed rating to “True” and added details about the school. -bb