Campaign Coverage 2020

School, teen agree to end lawsuit over sexual assault note



PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The Cape Elizabeth School Department has agreed to remove any record of discipline against a student who posted a note about sexual assault in a bathroom last year, ending an almost yearlong lawsuit.

Aela Mansmann, 16, sued the district when her high school suspended her for posting a note in a school bathroom last year that said: “There’s a rapist in our school and you know who it is.” The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, representing Mansmann, won a temporary restraining order to block the suspension.

Mansmann filed a motion to settle the lawsuit and the school has agreed to remove any record of her suspension, the Portland Press Herald reported Thursday.

A judge must approve the settlement, which has not been released. The ACLU would not say more about the settlement to the newspaper and said Mansmann would not be available to speak on Thursday.

The district twice appealed court rulings that blocked the suspension and defended Mansmann's note as free speech. Previously, the school had said it appealed the ruling to allow it to maintain safety and order.

On Thursday, an attorney for the school district, Melissa Hewey, told the newspaper the school pursued the case to preserve the school's ability to discipline students whose speech led to bullying.

“That’s a legal principle we set out to establish and we did establish,” she said.

The court found the school did not show that Mansmann's note bullied any particular student.

Hewey said she was being paid by the school's insurance but did not know what the final cost of the lawsuit would be to the school district. Cape Elizabeth is located about 8 miles (13 kilometers) from Portland and is one of the wealthiest communities in Maine.

Through her attorneys, Mansmann has said she wrote the note in September last year to draw attention to unaddressed sexual assaults at the school. She and other advocates for survivors of sexual assault voiced their concerns at a school board meeting in June 2019, the newspaper reported.

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