By: Paige Riddell, Staff Writer
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine posted a press release stating they have taken legal action against Cape Elizabeth School System over the suspension of a student on October 15. Aela Mansmann, a sophomore at Cape Elizabeth High School, put a sticky note in the high school bathroom that said: “There’s a rapist in our school and you know who it is.” This story gained national news after Mansmann was suspended on accusations of bullying. The lawsuit alleges that the school violated Mansmann protection from retaliation under Title IX and her first amendment rights.
Title IX is a federal law in place to protect students from being discriminated on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment or sexual violence, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion, as stated by the U.S Department of Education. According to the U.S Department of Education, schools have a responsibility to address sexual violence and harassment. The ACLU of Maine is claiming Mannsman’s Title IX rights have been violated in the case at Cape Elizabeth High School.
“A school has a responsibility to respond promptly and effectively,” “If a school knows or reasonably should know about sexual harassment or sexual violence that creates a hostile environment, the school must take immediate action to eliminate the sexual harassment or sexual violence, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects,” according to the U.S Department of Education.
Jeffery Shedd, the principal of Cape Elizabeth High School put out a press release explaining the reason for the suspension. According to the press release, the young woman who was the alleged victim, according to rumors, said all allegations were false. The incident was classified as bullying because the young man who was rumored to be the subject of the sticky note felt very unsafe and targeted by the student body.
“The school is punishing (Mansmann) for attempting to talk about an issue of real concern to herself and other students,” said Alison Beyea, executive director of the ACLU of Maine. “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 (Mansmann) will have a chilling effect on other students and make them hesitant to speak up about sexual assault, for fear of being punished.”
Title IX requires schools to publish a policy that does not discriminate based on sex in education, have a known protocol for students to file complaints and that schools have a Title IX Coordinator. Kathy Stankard is the Title IX coordinator at Cape Elizabeth highschool. However, due to legal actions being taken against the school, no one was able to comment further.
Sarah Holmes is the Deputy Title IX Coordinator an Assistant Dean of Students at USM. She believes USM handles allegations differently, even anonymous reports.
“I think my very first sort of baseline response… what can we find out about this situation? Holmes said. “Can we figure out who it was? Is there some way we can help? We’ve had a few cases or situations where there were some sort of anonymous messaging like that, and there’s not a lot we can do. But my very first response, I think, would be to figure out how to acknowledge it.”
In cases where sexual assault happens, USM does have protocols that they follow. According to USM’s Title IX Process at USM, most employees are mandated reporters under Title IX, the Clery Act and UMS Board Policy.
Once staff members gain knowledge of an assault or harassment going on on campus, they will only report de-identified information to the Title IX coordinator. The Title IX coordinator will try and safely make contact with the potential victim.
The student and the Title IX coordinator will go over options for reporting the assault if the student would feel safe doing that. There are many options in reporting the crime, which includes Local Law Enforcement, Campus Law Enforcement, Human Resources, and community standards. The school and the student can problem-solve remedies or accommodations that would help the student best succeed. Some of these include housing, parking, academics, scheduling, and more.
To ensure the student’s safety, the Title IX coordinator will go over safety planning with the student, such as enacting no contact orders, no trespassing orders, and suspension from campus.
Within USM’s policy, there is no difference in how this policy is implemented if the incident is on or off campus. According to the 2018 Annual Security Report, four forcible sexual assaults occurred on campus and none documented happened off of university grounds. In 2018, there were two cases of domestic violence that both were on campus. Although Holmes says that might not be because they aren’t happening, but because students aren’t fully aware of the resources available to them. One of USM’s significant ways of letting students know about resources and services is through the Freshman orientation seminar.
Rachel Milne, a sophomore Liberal Studies major at USM, says she does remember the school’s sexual assault reporting orientation during her freshman year.
“I do remember the school talking about how to report an assault,” she said. “I’ve seen there are also numbers in bathroom stalls that you can call if something happens.”
Holmes believes that the school does everything to the best of their ability, but there is always room for improvement.
“I think, can we do better? Always. We can always do better, especially when it comes to the safety of our students,” Holmes said. “I think USM and the University of Maine System has some really good policies in place, really good protocols in place, good practices in place. There’s always more we can do, the biggest issue is that students don’t know who to go to.”
If anyone needs help, assistance, or services contact Sarah Holmes at 207-780-5767 or Sexual Assault Services of Southern Maine at 1-800-871-7741.