PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A school district Friday appealed a judge’s decision to block a three-day suspension imposed on a 15-year-old student who posted comments about a “rapist” on a bathroom mirror.
The Cape Elizabeth School Committee felt compelled to take the case to the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals to ensure school administrators are not compromised in their ability to maintain safety and order, School Board Chairwoman Susana Measelle Hubbs said in a statement.
“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,” she said.
The student activist, Aela Mansmann, acknowledged posting the sticky note that proclaimed, “There’s a rapist in our school and you know who it is.”
Her attorneys contend it was a message aimed at calling attention to the unaddressed problem of sexual assaults. They said that stifling students’ voices on the topic would have a harmful effect and discourage victims from coming from forward.
But school officials suspended Mansmann for bullying, saying the note led to an individual staying home from school for eight days out of concerns for his safety.
In granting Mansmann’s request for a temporary restraining order, U.S. District Judge Lance Walker said he was sympathetic to school administrators’ concerns but suggested they shouldn’t have “carte blanche” to tamp down students’ concerns on social justice.
Hubbs said that said school officials in the town outside of Portland, Maine’s largest city, “cannot let this decision stand without challenge.”
“The precedent created by 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,” she said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, which represents Mansmann, predicts that the appeals court will reach the same conclusion as the judge.
“The district court was right to block the school from suspending (the student) for First Amendment-protected speech. We’re confident the appeals court will uphold that ruling,” said Alison Beyea, executive director of the ACLU of Maine.
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