The Emperor's New Face Mask

I don't know what's more irritating, bullies abusing their power or lying about it.

Like the manager who is suddenly interested in the ticky-tack enforcement of minor rules that no one has ever followed and uses them to discipline an employee they dislike. Or the HOA that enforces a yard sign rule because the association president supports the other candidate.

This abuse of power has been happening since the dawn of time, but we see it more clearly thanks to social media.

Case in point, two Georgia high school students tweeted photos of maskless students in crowded hallways after North Paulding High School reopened and administrators refused to enforce any safety measures.

On the first day of school, someone (@FreeYourMindKid on Twitter) tweeted a photo with a caption said, "This is the first day of school in Paulding County, Georgia."

The photos started making the news after they went, well, viral.

The next day was even worse, as 15-year-old Hannah Watters tweeted several photos that got even more attention, showing more students jammed together like logs in a river, most of them still not wearing masks.

One photo showed a bottleneck of students, maskless, unable to move, and shoving each other to make way. I once rode in a Chevy Chevette with five other people, and we had more room than those kids.

The problem is that Paulding County has refused to mandate masks, and Governor Brian "Vote Suppresser" Kemp has threatened to sue cities that require masks.

The result? A bunch of mouth-breathing teenagers mashed up against each other tighter than two coats of paint.

It's like prom night, but with less earth-shattering melodrama.

Students at Paulding North High School during the pandemic.
Watters tweeted, "Day two at North Paulding High School. It is just as bad. We were stopped because it was jammed. We are close enough to the point where I got pushed multiple go to second block. This is not ok. Not to mention the 10% mask rate."

It's almost like, despite one whole day of school under their belts, the kids didn't learn anything. They clearly learned nothing from the last six months of the pandemic, so I guess one more day won't make a difference.

The resulting story appeared in several mainstream media sources including the Washington Post, New York Times, and Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

We live in an age where young people are tired of what's being done to them by adults, so they're taking matters into their own hands. They're no longer waiting for us to fix the problems, they're doing it themselves. They're speaking up and fighting to be heard now, not in 10 or 20 years when they've had the desire for change drummed out of them.

That's why school administrators were very supportive and agreed that they had to do a better job of keeping all their students safe from the coronavirus.

Just kidding, they suspended Watters and another unnamed student for criticizing the school and making them look like ineffective bumblers.

Watters told BuzzFeed News she was suspended for breaking the rules against using phones during the school day and taking photos between classes.

But according to BuzzFeed News, school principal Gabe Carmona announced over the intercom on Wednesday that any student who criticized the school on social media could face discipline.

In other words, we heard the ticky-tack reason Watters was suspended, but now we know the real reason: she made them look dumb.

Paulding Schools superintendent Brian Otott wrote in a letter to the community, "Wearing a mask is a personal choice, and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them. What we will do is continue to strongly encourage all students and staff to wear masks."

Look, you couldn't even strongly encourage kids not to disparage the school on social media. What makes you think you 2,000 kids are going to listen to you about masks.

Also, I'm guessing your schools have a dress code that you've enforced with rulers and hem checks. So don't pretend masks are a personal choice if you've ever concerned yourself about girls' skirt lengths.

Watters agreed that she did violate the policy, but said she thought her punishment was excessive. "We have a progressive discipline system," she told BuzzFeed News. "When disciplining me and the other student, they skipped level one and went straight to two."

Watters said her family is planning to fight the suspension, although I think she has learned a more important lesson in one day than she would in five days of school: Bullies will use the law to oppress smaller voices, and they'll flout it when it suits them.

In the "Emperor's New Clothes," when the Emperor realized he wasn't wearing anything, he continued on with his parade through the city, walking more proudly than ever, even as his noblemen carried the train that wasn't there.

In Paulding County, the Emperor has been told he's not wearing any clothes. But rather than run off in shame or find something to wear, he punished the child who told him he was naked in the first place.

I just hope Paulding County's vanity doesn't get a lot of people killed.

Photo credit: Hannah Watters (@FreeYourMindKid)

My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finished and available on Amazon. You can get the Kindle version here or the paperback version here.