PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A federal appeals court has ruled that a lower court was justified in blocking the suspension of a Maine high school student who posted a note in a bathroom to draw attention to sexual assault.
Cape Elizabeth schools suspended Aela Mansmann, then a 15-year-old sophomore at Cape Elizabeth High School, after she posted a note in a bathroom that said: “There’s a rapist in our school and you know who it is.” The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine then took on Aela’s case, and a federal judge blocked the suspension while defending Aela’s note as free speech.
United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston ruled on Thursday that the lower court was within its right to stop the suspension.
The court’s ruling states that Aela’s actions were “far from the best way” for the student “to express her concerns about student-on-student sexual assault and Cape Elizabeth H.S.’s handling of sexual assault claims.” However, the appeals court also found that the lower court did not abuse its own discretion in stopping the suspension.
The school district said the Cape Elizabeth School Board will meet in the future to determine its next steps. The district said it maintains that placing the note was an act of bullying against another student. It also said in a statement that it was “disappointed” in the appeals court ruling.
“We have always encouraged our students to speak out on matters that are important to them and we will continue to do so,” the district said in the statement. “But from our perspective that is not what this case was about.”
Cape Elizabeth is located about eight miles from Portland and is one of the wealthiest communities in Maine. Students participated in a school walkout in support of Aela last October.
Aela said in a statement issued by the ACLU that the ruling was a victory for students who want to vocally oppose sexual assault.
“I hope this ruling helps more students speak up about sexual assault, and other topics that are important to them,” the statement said.
The case remains active at the federal district court level and the ACLU is continuing to represent Aela, said Emma Bond, legal director of ACLU of Maine.