CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — The Cape Elizabeth School Committee is appealing a Federal Court’s decision preventing the school from suspending a student after she posted notes in the school's bathrooms claiming there is a 'rapist' in the school.
The school announced the appeal on Friday. Aela Mansmann, 15, was suspended on October 4 for bullying and other students were suspended as well. The Chair of the Cape Elizabeth School Board, Susana Measelle Hubbs said in a statement:
"We would be remiss, out of compliance, and in conflict with everything we stand for in regards to student safety if we chose to ignore bullying in our schools."
U.S. District Court judge sided with a Cape Elizabeth High School student on October 24. The judge granted a stay preventing the school from suspending her.
Shael Norris, on behalf of her daughter, Aela Mansmann, asked the court to temporarily stay a three-day suspension imposed by Cape Elizabeth Superintendent of Schools Donna Wolfrom, alleging the school violated Mansmann's First Amendment rights.
"We felt compelled to take this step for the Cape Elizabeth School Department and for all schools in this state. Schools must have the ability to address statements by students that are likely to spread fear and alarm or to harm others as was the case with the statement involved in this case," said Superintendent of the Cape Elizabeth School Department Donna H. Wolfrom in a statement on Friday, November 8.
On Sept. 16, Mansmann placed a sticky note in a girls' bathroom at the high school reading, "There's a rapist in our school and you know who it is."
Within minutes, another student found the note and took it to administrators. Other notes were posted later in the day, according to the court decision.
Cape Elizabeth High School Principal Jeffrey Shedd and Vice-Principal Nate Carpenter investigated and through camera footage identified Mansmann as the author of the notes.
The investigation included interviews of more than 40 students, according to the decision by U.S. District Judge Lance E. Walker, which added, "Some of what they discovered would be upsetting to certain students and will not be recounted here."
A male student subsequently was "ostracized" by his peers, and did not attend school for several days.
School administrators say the federal court’s decision "will have a chilling effect on school officials’ efforts to keep schools safe and will deter schools from acting promptly to identify and remove dangers or threats from the schools."
They say they are appealing the decision to "ensure the safety of all of our students is our paramount goal and in order to support this goal, we cannot let this decision stand without challenge."
The ACLU of Maine argued that the note was protected as free speech and designed to call attention to sexual assault at the school and to hold administrators accountable for keeping students safe.