A Maine teenager was suspended for "bullying" last Friday after posting a note that claimed there was a rapist in her school.
"There's a rapist in our school and you know who it is," the note read.
The handwritten note, which didn't name a specific student, stemmed from a trend that Aela said began last month. The 15-year-old and her friends had gotten "pretty fed up" with sexual assault and harassment at their high school, so they began planting messages about their frustration on bathroom mirrors.
More students joined in, with some sharing their individual experiences and concerns. Aela, however, said her note was meant to be general rather than target a single person.
"It was really addressing the general culture of our school, and keeping in mind several specific cases," she told BuzzFeed. "But there are so many it's hard to pinpoint just one and advocate for just one of them."
Aela told BuzzFeed that her school spent three weeks investigating the notes and interviewing students, promising them that the writers of them would not be punished. During that time, another student approached administrators with their own concern: They said they felt bullied by Aela's note.
"That kinda confuses me, right? Because this person wasn't identified in the sticky notes," she told BuzzFeed. "In fact, there's more than one person that was being referred to. Yet this person self-identified feeling targeted, so the school took steps to suspend me versus further investigating that self-identification."
Meanwhile, the Portland Press Herald published an interview with Aela in which she continued to criticize her school's administration.
"I don’t feel like my school deals with the issue of sexual assault in a good way," Mansmann told the Press Herald last Friday.
Aela found out she was being suspended a few hours after the story was published, with administrators telling her she'd violated the school's anti-bullying policies. In a statement released that day, the school said it had "never disciplined a student for advocating for their peers," but that it was required to investigate any situation when "a student's speech bullies another student."
NEW: Mother of girl who posted the sticky notes says she has been suspended for bullying. The school says they have never disciplined a student for advocating for their peers, but says it’s important when a student’s speech bullies another they are required to take action pic.twitter.com/1i6L7QYt2o— Roslyn Flaherty (@roslyn_flaherty) October 4, 2019
The school's online policy guidelines define bullying as an oral, written or electronic expression or physical action that negatively affects a student through a number of means, including, "creating an intimidating or hostile educational environment for the student."
Superintendent Donna Wolfrom told News Center Maine that the notes left by Alea and others did have adverse effects on certain students, adding that there may have been a better way for them to express their concerns.
"I think there's a way to do it, a proper way to do it, and if they go through the proper channels, I think that's perfectly fine," Wolfrom said.
Sticky notes were left in two girls' bathrooms at Cape Elizabeth HS last month allegedly saying "there is a rapist in the school and we know who it is." The Superintendent says she is confident students are safe but suggests students should have voiced their concerns differently pic.twitter.com/0llDg8vOFs— Roslyn Flaherty (@roslyn_flaherty) October 4, 2019
But at least some students at Cape Elizabeth disagree with the administration's actions. On Monday, dozens of students staged a walkout in protest of the school's treatment of Aela and two other students, who were also suspended in connection with the sticky notes.
Attendees of the walkout read a list of demands, which included expunging whistleblowers' records and overhauling the sexual assault reporting process.
Aela and her parents are also appealing the three-day suspension, and the 15-year-old is still allowed in school until the issue is resolved. In addition, Aela has started a Change.org petition to bring attention to the way she says her school treats victims of sexual assault.
The teenager also told BuzzFeed she hopes her record is expunged but also emphasized her disappointment that the punishment occurred in the first place.
"I honestly feel very ashamed that my school took this action," Aela told BuzzFeed.