Free Speech Advocates Ask Schools Not To Punish Students For Sharing Photos Of Crowded Halls, Maskless Peers

Free speech advocates are calling on American schools not to punish kids who share unflattering photographs of crowded hallways or maskless peers, CNN reported. The move comes in the wake of a Georgia teenager being suspended for doing that very thing.

As previously reported by The Inquisitr, Hannah Watters, a sophomore at North Paulding High School, was alarmed at what she saw during her first week back at school, when hundreds of her peers crammed into a narrow hallway and few of them wore masks. She took a photo of the situation and posted it on Twitter.

Following the post, Hannah got suspended for five days, though her suspension was later overturned following a public outcry.

Officially, Hannah was disciplined for using a mobile device during school hours, using social media during school hours, and publicizing a photo of her classmates without their permission — in the process violating their privacy. The situation made nationwide headlines.

Mike Hiestand, senior legal counsel for the Student Press Law Center, said he expects that he’ll soon be representing more teenagers like Hannah.

“I’ve little doubt that these sorts of conflicts are going to dominate my life over the next many months… By far the most common targets for censorship are accurate, lawful stories that school officials believe cast the school in a negative light,” he said, noting that for a school to punish a student for showing its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, even under another pretense (such as violating her peers’ privacy), has “censorship written all over [it].”

Roy Gutterman, an attorney and director of the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, noted that the Supreme Court has ruled that a student does not hang her First Amendment rights at the door when she enters a school.

“It would be unreasonable to punish students who are exposing misbehavior or other problems during this public health crisis. If a student exposes something like this, the student is more akin to a whistleblower or public critic and should be praised rather than punished,” he said.

Hiestand is encouraging more teenagers to take a page out of Hannah’s book and photograph and publicize it when their schools are seemingly playing fast and loose with their health. He encouraged young people to be brave, to use the new speech tools available to them (mobile devices and social media), and to say what needs to be said.