A 15-year-old tried to raise awareness about sexual assault at her school. The school responded by suspending her for ‘bullying’.
- Several students at Cape Elizabeth High School in Maine were suspended for bullying after they posted sticky notes in the bathroom claiming there is a rapist at the school.
- The students wrote the notes as a form of protest over what they see as a mishandling of sexual assault claims at the school.
- School officials launched an investigation into the notes after a student who thought the notes were directed towards him reported feeling ostracised.
- Facing criticisms, the school defended its decision and released a letter saying the media attention surrounding the notes had resulted in angry critics sending threatening letters to school officials.
- The ACLU of Maine stepped in and issued a temporary restraining order to prevent one of the students behind the note from being suspended. The ACLU claims the school violated the student's first amendment freedom of speech and tried to intimidate her into giving up the names of her friends.
- For more go to Business Insider.
When 15-year old Aela Mansmann arrived at school on September 16 she'd had enough. She and several of her friends were concerned over the ways her Cape Elizabeth, Maine, high school was handling instances of sexual assault involving members of the student community. Mansmann had brought up her concerns at a school board meeting in June but, in her mind, little was done. Hoping to have her voice heard, Mansmann pulled out a sticky note and posted it to one of the bathroom mirrors and took a photo.
The note read: "There's a rapist in our school and you know who it is."
Aela Mansmann was suspended because a student felt they were being bullied by her for this note. This is all you need to know about Americaâ€™s #rapeculture the school punished Aela rather than understanding why a student would self identify as a rapist!!!!! #BelieveWomen pic.twitter.com/OlWMYJ0BUy— Kelcie ?? (@klckush) October 8, 2019
School officials did not take kindly to the notes and suspended Mansmann and two other students for bullying.
In an interview with Insider, Mansmann said she was shocked when she was informed of her impending suspension by the school.
"Whoever put in in this bullying claim must have had to somehow self-identify with the note to, therefore, feel bullied," Mansmann said. "I was really surprised that my school took that report and decided to open an investigation into whether or not I'm a bully versus opening an investigation on whether or not this person who self-identified is a perpetrator."
Mansmann and said she and her family immediately decided to appeal the suspension. For the next few weeks, the high schooler tried to attend school as normal with the potential suspension looming overhead.
The notes, which were first reported on by The Portland Press Herald, did not specifically name the student referred to as "the rapist," but officials at Cape Elizabeth High School said that the boy understood the note was directed towards him according to WIS News 10. That student, reportedly felt he had become ostracised by his peers and skipped eight days of school in response. When asked if she knew who had filed the bullying complaint, Mansmann said she had some ideas in her mind but couldn't say for certain one way or the other exactly who it was.
Mansmann said the note was meant to serve as a "placeholder" for a future conversation to be had within the school. The 15-year-old didn't it would balloon into "a national conversation."
School officials defend their decision to suspend student despite complaints
Last week, with complaints continually rolling in, the school's principal sent out a letter to the school community where he defended the school's decisions and, said the three girls had made "a really bad choice."
The letter also claims Shedd and other school officials received abusive emails and calls from critics outside of the state criticising them over the suspension. One of the anonymous emails allegedly sent to Shedd and included in the letter read, "Whoever is responsible (every single one of you) for this ridiculously biased B.S. should (sic) removed now … and forevermore."
Some of those cases, according to the letter, were perceived as threatening enough that they were reported to local police.
Cape Elizabeth High School did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
The ACLU takes up Mansmann's case
Nearly a month after the notes were posted in the bathroom, the ACLU of Maine breathed new life into the case this week when it filed a temporary restraining order to delay the school from starting the suspension. Though the note was posted last month, the school the suspension wasn't set to go into effect until October 15 because of Mansmann's previous appeals.
The ACLU of Maine rejected the school's premise that the notes were a form of bullying, since they didn't specifically target an individual student. Instead, the ACLU argued the school went oo far and had violated Mansmann and the other students' First Amendment freedom of speech.
"The school is punishing [Mansmann] for attempting to talk about an issue of real concern to herself and other students," Alison Beyea, the executive director of the ACLU of Maine said in a press release sent to Insider. "Instead of trying to silence them, it is our responsibility as adults to give them a safe forum in which to be heard."
According to the ACLU, the school may have violated Mansmann's first amendment rights on the second occasion, when they allegedly brought her into an interview and allegedly attempted to get her to tell them the names of other students involved in the note positing.
"I definitely felt pressured to tell them the information they wanted," Mansmann said of the incident. Cape Elizabeth High School did not immediately respond to Insider's multiples requests for comment about whether or not it pressured Mansmann to speak out on her fellow students.
Mansmann's case is set to be argued in front of a Portland federal on October 21. Regardless of the final decision, Mansmann said she hopes her situation might shed light on what she views as other profound instances of improper sexual assault handlings at schools across the country.
"These issues are not specific to Cape Elizabeth but that doesn't mean I'm going to let [the school] silence me," she said.
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