(New York, NY) — PEN America has joined a coalition of free expression groups expressing concern over the suspension of students from a Georgia high school who took pictures and videos showing crowded hallways and students without masks. On August 7, PEN America sent a letter to North Paulding High School, along with the Student Press Law Center, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and 25 other organizations criticizing the suspensions—some of which have since been rescinded—as well as an announcement made over the school intercom that warned students against posting images online that might cast the school in a negative light.

“Unconstitutionally prohibiting students from speaking about the conditions of the school does not change the conditions of the school or the concerns they have; it only fosters mistrust and fear,” the letter reads. “This seems all about shooting the messengers. The reality is that it’s 2020 and those messengers with their new speech tools aren’t going away.” The full text of the letter can be found here.

“This retaliation flies in the face of these students’ First Amendment rights,” said Nora Benavidez, director of U.S. free expression programs at PEN America. “The students here shared images online and were punished for it. That the school then double-downed by suspending them and cautioning other students from even posting images online is more worrisome. No student should face such intimidation from school authorities simply because the school wants to suppress evidence of its woefully inadequate public health response.”

Learn more about PEN America’s work on campuses around the country and our defense of free speech this election season.