Student sues Cape Elizabeth schools over suspension after posting sticky note saying, 'There's a rapist in our school'

Published: Oct. 15, 2019 at 1:21 PM EDT
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A high school student is suing the Cape Elizabeth School District after she was suspended for posting a sticky note that said, "There's a rapist in our school, and you know who it is."

According to court documents filed Sunday, the student, identified as "A.M." is accusing school leaders of violating her First Amendment rights.

Sophomore Aela Mansmann said she was one of three students who was suspended. The lawsuit does not mention Mansmann by name.

About three dozen students walked out of class last week to question the suspensions and to draw attention to alleged sexual assaults.

Superintendent Donna Wolfrom said last week that the sticky note was deemed bullying because the subject of the note was identifiable to students.

Cape Elizabeth High School Principal Jeffrey Shedd said the three suspended students posted the sticky notes in two bathrooms on Sept. 16. In a letter to parents, he said the students who were "well motivated, with good intentions, made a really bad choice."

The lawsuit was filed against the school district, Wolfrom, Shedd and the high school vice principal.

In the lawsuit, the student alleges the First Amendment-protected speech "was critical of defendants, and it drew unwelcome public attention to defendants’ actions and inactions."

The student alleges school leaders unfairly punished her, "even though her speech did not cause a material and substantial disruption to the school day and did not otherwise fall into one of the narrow categories of student speech that can be regulated by the school, including language that is lewd and indecent."

The lawsuit requests school leaders rescind the suspension and wipe the student's record. The student is being represented by the ACLU of Maine.

The ACLU is arguing the notes did not mention a specific student and constitute free speech. The student and the ACLU said the note was "meant to start a conversation at the school about sexual assault."

“The school is punishing A.M. for attempting to talk about an issue of real concern to herself and other students,” Alison Beyea, executive director of the ACLU of Maine, said in a statement. “More and more, young people are leading the way and calling on us all to have badly-needed conversations about difficult issues. Instead of trying to silence them, it is our responsibility as adults to give them a safe forum in which to be heard. Unfortunately, Cape Elizabeth administrators took a much different tack. The school’s decision to suspend A.M. will have a chilling effect on other students and make them hesitant to speak up about sexual assault, for fear of being punished.”

Shedd said that, during the investigation, a student who was the target of the sticky notes missed eight days of school because he felt unsafe. The boy's family said the situation felt like bullying and asked the school to look into it. Shedd said the boy is now back at school.

According to the lawsuit, the student also alleges she was punished for speaking to the media.

The students who were suspended can have the suspension removed from their record once they become seniors if they have a good record after returning to school, Shedd said last week.

Shedd told WMTW last week that the school plans to hold its third Sexual Assault Awareness for Everyone event in the spring.

The student's suspension has been delayed pending a hearing next week.

The school district declined to comment on the lawsuit.