Two suburban Atlanta school districts that began in-person classes Monday with mask-optional policies face more questions about COVID-19 safety protocols after on-campus pictures showed students packed shoulder-to-shoulder, the AP reports. In Cherokee County, dozens of seniors gathered at two of the district's six high schools to take traditional first-day-of-school senior photos, with students squeezing together in black outfits. No one in pictures at Sequoyah High School in Hickory Flat or Etowah High School in Woodstock wore a mask. In Paulding County, student pictures taken Monday and Tuesday show crowded hallways at North Paulding High School in Dallas. Fewer than half of the students shown are wearing masks. Critics widely derided the pictures on social media, although some residents of the counties voiced support.
Paulding County Superintendent Brian Ottot, in an email sent Tuesday, said pictures were accurate, but said the district is following state guidelines and that students need longer than a few minutes in the hall to catch the virus from others. Ottot wrote that class changes are “a challenge" and that "it is an area where we are continuing to work on in this new environment to find practicable ways to further limit students from congregating,” He added that “There is no question that the photo does not look good.” Ottot defended the district's decision not to require masks, writing that “Wearing a mask is a personal choice and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them.” Cherokee County school district spokesperson Barbara Jacoby said the pictures weren't a sanctioned activity and officials only became aware when the photos were posted on social media. She didn't say why staff members weren't present or didn't break up groups. An Instagram account associated with Sequoyah High School shared the picture, writing “Welcome Back!!!" but the picture was later removed.
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