The suspension of a high school student who posted a note claiming there was a rapist on campus will remain blocked, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.
Aela Mansmann, a student at Cape Elizabeth High School in Maine, gained national attention in 2019 after posting a sticky note in a bathroom that said, "There's a rapist in our school and you know who it is."
Other students also then started to post similar notes about sexual violence, prompting school officials to launch an investigation that included questioning Mansmann.
Manmann, who was 15 at the time, and two other students were suspended for three days for violating the school's anti-bullying policy. But two days before it took effect, Mansmann's parents and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit arguing the note was protected First Amendment speech.
A federal judge agreed.
"The public has interest in knowing that neither [Mansmann] nor any other student who expresses a comparable view in similar fashion will be denied access to school because her viewpoint offends the sensibilities of school administrators," US District Judge Lance Walker wrote.
The school district had appealed that decision, but on Thursday, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston ruled the lower court was able to stop the suspension.
Although the court said the sticky note "was far from the best way for [Mansmann] to express her concerns about student-on-student sexual assault and Cape Elizabeth H.S.'s handling of sexual assault claims," they were only ruling on whether the district court could issue the preliminary injunction.
Mansmann told BuzzFeed News on Friday that the decision a victory for students and advocates of victims of sexual violence.
She added that she would continue to use her voice to speak out for sexual assault survivors, including her current work to have students across the country build kits to reform schools' sexual assault response policies on their campuses.
Although Mansmann's note did not name a particular student, school officials believed she was referring to a classmate who had been identified in rumors alleging he had committed sexual assault in a video that was spread on social media. The video, however, did not show the student committing sexual assault, according to court records.
The student "experienced ostracism from his peers" and stayed away from the school for about eight days, records show, and his mother told school officials she believed her son had been singled out because of the notes.
In an earlier interview with BuzzFeed News, Mansmann said her note was referencing "more than one person."
The Cape Elizabeth School Board said in a statement they were disappointed with the ruling.
"We have always encouraged our students to speak out on matters that are important to them and we will continue to do so," the school board said. "But from our perspective, that is not what this case was about. As the court recognized, the student in this case was disciplined because school administrators believed she was bullying another student.
Emma Bond, legal director for the ACLU, told BuzzFeed News the decision "speaks for itself," and that it "reaffirms that schools can't use bullying laws as a shield to silence speech that is unpopular or critical of school officials."
The school board is slated to meet and decide next steps in the case.