Dozens of high school students walked out of classes near Portland, Maine, on Monday in support of a teen who warned about "a rapist in our school" and was then suspended for bullying. "I definitely am ashamed to say I go to Cape Elizabeth High School with this being their reaction," Aela Mansmann tells WGME, claiming the three-day suspension violates her right to free speech. As the Washington Post reports, the 15-year-old student activist didn't mention names in the sticky notes she and two friends posted in two bathrooms on Sept. 16, after what Aela saw as the school's inadequate response to sexual assault allegations. Details are scarce, but school officials, who took action in four of seven investigations into sexual harassment or assault allegations in the previous school year, say there's no rapist enrolled, per the Portland Press Herald.
What's more, the school says "when a student's speech bullies another student, we are required by law and by School Board policy to investigate and take prompt action, even if that same student has also spoken out on a matter of public concern." The school defines bullying, in part, as "creating an intimidating or hostile educational environment." Still, Aela's parents—including a mother who co-founded the national sexual assault prevention group SafeBAE—are appealing the suspension. Aela, who can remain at school during the appeal, even walked out with 50 students on Monday in an enduring push for better reporting policies. "It makes me angry that I'm being punished for bullying and a rapist isn't being punished for raping people," she tells WCSH. She's expected to learn the outcome of the appeal on Wednesday. (Read more sexual assault stories.)