CAPE ELIZABETH — About 50 Cape Elizabeth High School students walked out of classes Monday morning to protest the suspension of three girls who had posted notes accusing an unnamed person of sexual assault.

One student held a sign that said: “Believe survivors, not perpetrators.” Another said: “Advocating for survivors is not a crime.”

Cape Elizabeth High School sophomore Aela Mansmann speaks to a gathering of students who walked out of the school on Monday to protest the suspension of Mansmann and two other students. She said, “I’m ashamed of my school for punishing us, rather than the accused.”  Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The Cape Elizabeth Police Department would not address specific allegations of sexual assault at the school. District officials, meanwhile, have said the school is safe and there is no rapist there.

Aela Mansmann, 15, a Cape Elizabeth sophomore, is appealing her three-day out-of-school suspension for posting the notes, which the school administration determined was bullying. Two other girls who attend the high school also were suspended for posting the notes, students said.

“I’m ashamed of my school for punishing us, rather than the accused,” Mansmann said in an interview during the protest. She didn’t attend school Monday, but was at the protest and addressed the students who walked out. She plans to go to school Tuesday while her appeal is pending.

Mansmann’s mother, Shael Norris, said she has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union because she believes that her daughter’s free-speech rights were violated. Norris has not yet heard back from the ACLU.

Donna Wolfrom, Cape Elizabeth’s superintendent, did not respond to an interview request from the Press Herald. According to a copy of Mansmann’s suspension letter, the “writing or posting notes on our school bathrooms did in fact constitute an act of bullying within our policy.”

Christena Gikas, a Cape Elizabeth High School senior, said that she’s “shocked” Mansmann and two others are being punished.

“I still don’t get why they are being punished. It was not bullying,” Gikas said. “We as citizens are guaranteed our rights of free speech.”

Gikas doesn’t believe any students who participated in the 30-minute protest Monday – held outside the high school – would be punished.

Mansmann’s note, posted Sept. 16 in a high school restroom, said, “There’s a rapist in our school and you know who it is.”

Mansmann said she was trying to draw attention to alleged sexual assaults that had been reported over the past year, and some students felt like they were being ignored by school officials.

She said that during a meeting with school officials, including Wolfrom, about a week before she was suspended on Friday, school officials pressured her to reveal the names of students who had approached her about being sexually assaulted.

Mansmann said she refused because it was not her place to reveal the identities of students who had told her of the allegations in confidence. Mansmann believes that since that meeting she’s been labeled by school officials as uncooperative.

“They all got pretty angry, and I was in a pretty tricky situation,” Mansmann said. “These (students) have put their trust in me, and I should be honoring that trust.”

Cape Elizabeth High School junior Marco Hansel, left, and senior Kailey Brown hold a sign while listening to a speaker address students who walked out of the school on Monday to protest the suspension of three students following complaints of how the school handled recent sexual assault allegations. At right is Lily Callow, a student from Baxter Academy who attended the walkout in a show of support. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

During the walkout Monday, students said they would present school officials with a list of demands, including to expunge the records of all who have been suspended for posting the notes, mandated education for staff on sexual assault complaints, improved ways students can report an assault, improved curriculum surrounding consent, and an alternative grievance procedure that circumvents the superintendent and School Board president.

Norris, Mansmann’s mother, said school officials had previously told her that her daughter would not be punished for leaving the notes.

Marcus Wagner, 15, and a Cape Elizabeth sophomore, said leaving the notes was “not bullying” and that students caught for fighting or repeatedly skipping classes were given far milder punishments than Mansmann received.

“I don’t think it’s at all fair what they did to her,” Wagner said.

 

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