A high school student has been suspended after she called out alleged sexual abusers while at school.
Fifteen-year-old Aela Mansmann, a sophomore at Cape Elizabeth High School, was suspended for “bullying” after posting a note that read, “There’s a rapist in our school and you know who it is.”
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Mansmann told Buzzfeed News that she was “pretty fed up” after hearing stories from classmates about being sexually assaulted. The stories were particularly distressing because the alleged attackers faced no consequences.
Taking a stand against the alleged abusers, Mansmann and a friend put up the sticky note. Soon, classmates were posting similar notes in the bathroom, sharing their stories of sexual assault.
Mansmann told Buzzfeed News that the note was “addressing the general culture of our school, and keeping in mind several specific cases. But there are so many it’s hard to pinpoint just one and advocate for just one of them.”
School officials began investigating the sticky note soon after it was posted.
“For three weeks, myself and other students were brought in for interviews and interrogations,” she told the news outlet. “They promised all of us whoever put notes up would not be in trouble.”
Mansmann was interviewed three times during the investigation, but she did not hear of any of the accused being interviewed. One did, though, allegedly go to school officials to report being bullied, she said.
“That kinda confuses me, right? Because this person wasn’t identified in the sticky notes,” she told Buzzfeed. “In fact, there’s more than one person that was being referred to. Yet this person self-identified feeling targeted, so the school took steps to suspend me versus further investigating that self-identification.”
The Portland Press Herald ran a story about Mansmann and issues she was facing at school. Soon after, she was called into the main office and suspended along with two other students.
Superintendent Donna Wolfrom told News Center Maine that the notes caused “a lot of confusion” and “had some adverse effects on other students.”
A spokesperson from the superintendent’s office said the school “has never disciplined a student for advocating for their peers or their views on cultural, social, and political matters.”
“It is important to understand, however, that when a student’s speech bullies another student, we are required by law and by school board policy to investigate and take prompt action, even if that same student has also spoken out on a matter of public concern,” the letter added.
The Monday following the suspension, 50 students walked out in protest. Mansmann said they were protesting because they felt their First Amendment rights had been violated after they were punished for speaking out, as well as for survivors of sexual assault.
“The whole goal was to protest the suspensions and show everyone’s support for the survivors that walk our halls every day,” she said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine has stepped in to appeal for the reversal of the suspension. They asked a federal judge to block the school from suspending Mansmann and her two classmates this week. The suit alleges that the school violated Manmann’s First Amendment rights and her protection from retaliation under Title IX. They also asked that her suspension not go in to affect until the case has been litigated.
The ACLU said in a press release that the school has agreed to delay the suspension, though they have not yet responded to the suit.
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