- A high-school sophomore in Maine was suspended by her school for three days after she posted a note in the girl’s restroom reading, “There’s a rapist in our school and you know who it is.”
- The American Civil Liberties Union then sued the school district for violating the student’s First Amendment rights, with the school arguing that the note was defamation and bullying.
- A judge issued a temporary block of the suspension, saying that the student, 15-year-old Aela Mansmann, was protected under her right to free speech even if “her viewpoint offends the sensibilities of school administrators.”
Posting the Note and Suspension
A judge blocked a teen’s suspension after she posted a rape awareness note in the girls’ restroom at her at high school, citing the student’s right to freedom of speech.
The note in question was posted on Sep. 16 at Cape Elizabeth High School and reads, “There’s a rapist in our school and you know who it is.”
“The public has an interest in knowing that neither she nor any other student who expresses a comparable view in similar fashion will be denied access to school simply because her viewpoint offends the sensibilities of school administrators,” U.S. District Judge Lance Walker said.
The sophomore who posted the note, 15-year-old Aela Mansmann, said she did so because she believed school administrators were overlooking other students’ claims of sexual harassment and assault. In fact, footage of a school board meeting in June later surfaced, showing Mansmann bringing similar concerns directly before administrators.
Soon after posting the note, however, a different student brought it to school administrators. Those administrators then discovered Mansmann had posted the note by reviewing security footage.
While Mansmann’s mother said the school originally told her daughter that she wouldn’t be punished for the incident, after Mansmann went public about the story to the media, she and two other girls were suspended for three days.
School officials said the note constituted bullying and added that if it happened again, the girls could be expelled. Mansmann’s family then appealed that decision, with administrators saying Mansmann could continue to go to school while an investigation was pending.
Principal Jeffrey Shedd said he conducted 47 interviews over three weeks, later calling the girls’ note well-intentioned but also noting that they “made a really bad choice.”
During that investigation, a male student stepped forward and claimed he felt targeted by the note and had been ostracised by classmates. That student then said he’d missed class because of what happened.
Meanwhile, on Oct. 7, about 50 students at the school of 550 walked out in protest of the school’s decision to suspend the three girls.
Some local outlets even reported waves of gossip and fear at the school.
ACLU Sues the School District
On Oct. 13 the American Civil Liberties Union sued the school district on behalf of Mansmann. It argued that the girls had taken a “public stance as an ally for victims and survivors of sexual violence” by using their First Amendment rights.
Specifically, Mansmann lawyers had requested a restraining order that would block the school from suspending her until the incident was resolved.
Mansmann, who has spoken with a variety of media outlets on the issue, has questioned why the school is focusing on her rather than on the accusation of rape.
“I was really surprised that my school took that report and decided to open an investigation into whether or not I’m a bully versus opening an investigation on whether or not this person who self-identified is a perpetrator,” she told Business Insider.
The Cape Elizabeth School District hasn’t commented on how it handled the accusation, but school officials did say they don’t believe there’s a rapist on the campus.
In court, the district argued the note was nothing more than defamation, saying that it wasn’t protected under the First Amendment.
Judge Blocks Temporary Suspension
On Oct. 24, Judge Walker ordered a temporary block to the suspension, saying it would likely be overturned on the grounds of free speech. The judge also said it could be overturned on the basis of Title IX, which is a federal law banning gender discrimination in education.
In his argument, the Walker wrote that the notes was “neither frivolous nor fabricated, took place within the limited confines of the girls’ bathroom, related to a matter of concern to the young women who might enter the bathroom and receive the message, and was not disruptive of school discipline.”
He then said that more information would be necessary to justify punishment and that the school shouldn’t have the right to crack down on topics of social justice in areas of free student communication.
The ACLU hailed the decision, saying it’s a reminder that students “do not check their rights at the schoolhouse gate.”
As far as the school goes, Superintendent Donna Wolfrom said, “We will continue to review and update district policies to align with state law and meet the needs of the district.”
See what others are saying: (WMTV) (The Washington Post) (Bangor Daily News)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Paris Hilton Urges Lawmakers To Crack Down on Abusive Teen Treatment Facilities
The heiress alleges that she was a victim of abuse in these types of centers for two years and wants to ensure that no child suffers through the same experience.
Paris Hilton Details Abuse Within “Troubled Teen Industry”
Socialite and entrepreneur Paris Hilton spoke outside of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to support the Accountability for Congregate Care Act, which is set to be introduced in the near future.
Hilton joined Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to advocate for the legislation, which aims to create a “bill of rights” for children in treatment and behavioral centers.
The heiress has alleged that she spent two of her teenage years in these types of facilities and was subject to rampant abuse. She is far from alone.
During a press conference, Hilton said that one night when she was 16, she woke up to two large men in her bedroom forcing her out of her house. She said she screamed for help because she thought she was being kidnapped, but her parents watched as she was taken away to a “troubled teen” program.
“Like countless other parents of teens, my parents had searched for solutions to my rebellious behavior,” she explained in an op-ed for The Washington Post this week. “Unfortunately, they fell for the misleading marketing of the ‘troubled teen industry’ — therapeutic boarding schools, military-style boot camps, juvenile justice facilities, behavior modification programs and other facilities that generate roughly $50 billion annually in part by pitching ‘tough love’ as the answer to problematic behavior.”
Hilton said she was sent to four different facilities where she was “physically and psychologically abused.”
“I was strangled, slapped across the face, watched in the shower by male staff, called vulgar names, forced to take medication without a diagnosis, not given a proper education, thrown into solitary confinement in a room covered in scratch marks and smeared in blood and so much more,” she explained during the press conference.
“At Provo Canyon School in Utah, I was given clothes with a number on the tag. I was no longer me, I was only number 127,” she continued. “I was forced to stay indoors for 11 months straight, no sunlight, no fresh air. These were considered privileges.”
Goals of the Accountability for Congregate Care Act
Hilton claims that a lack of transparency and accountability has allowed this structure of abuse to thrive for decades. In some cases, she said it has taken children’s lives. Now, she wants Congress and President Joe Biden to act.
“This bill creates an urgently needed bill of rights to ensure that every child placed into congregate care facilities is provided a safe and humane environment,” Hilton said of the Accountability for Congregate Care Act.
“This bill of rights provides protections that I wasn’t afforded, like access to education, to the outdoors, freedom from abusive treatment, and even the basic right to move and speak freely. If I had these rights and could have exercised them, I would have been saved from over 20 years of trauma and severe PTSD.”
Foster children, children being treated for mental disorders, and other children in youth programs would be impacted by the bill.
Hilton was one of several survivors and advocates who fought for the legislation on Wednesday. Rep. Khanna thanked them for using their stories to fight for change.
“No child should be subjected to solitary confinement, forced labor, or any form of institutional abuse,” he wrote. “Thanks to Paris Hilton, my colleagues & the survivors & advocates who joined us today to discuss how we can hold the congregate care industry accountable.”
While only Democratic legislators are currently sponsoring the bill, Hilton called for a bipartisan effort to fight for the rights of children.
“Ensuring that children are safe from institutional abuse isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue,” Hilton said. “It’s a basic human rights issue that requires immediate attention.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (NBC News)
Surgeons Successfully Test Pig Kidney Transplant on a Human
The procedure has been hailed as a major scientific breakthrough that could eventually open the door to a renewable source of desperately needed organs.
Surgeons at the NYU Langone Transplant Institute revealed Tuesday that they temporarily attached a kidney from a genetically modified pig to a human patient and found that it worked normally.
The operation was the first of its kind and could one day lead to a vast supply of organs for those who are in severe need. According to the Associated Press, more than 90,000 people in the U.S. are in line for a kidney transplant. Each day, an average of 12 die while waiting.
With the family’s consent, the groundbreaking procedure was performed on a brain-dead patient who was kept alive on a ventilator.
According to the surgeons, the pig used was genetically engineered to grow an organ that wouldn’t produce a sugar that the human immune system attacks, which would then trigger the body to reject the kidney.
The organ was connected to blood vessels on the patient’s upper leg, outside the abdomen, and it was observed for over 54 hours, with doctors finding no signs of rejection.
Concerns and Hurdles Ahead
While the procedure was successful, this doesn’t mean it’ll be available to patients anytime soon. Several questions about long-term functionality remain, and it will still have to go through significant medical and regulatory hurdles.
Details of the procedure haven’t even been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal yet, though there are plans for this.
Experts are also considering the ethical implications of this type of animal-to-human transplant. For some, raising pigs to harvest their organs raises concerns about animal welfare and exploitation. Such medical procedures have already earned criticism from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.
“Pigs aren’t spare parts and should never be used as such just because humans are too self-centered to donate their bodies to patients desperate for organ transplants,” PETA said in a statement, according to The New York Times.
On the other side of the debate are people like Dr. Robert Montgomery, the director of the N.Y.U. Langone Transplant Institute who performed the breakthrough procedure in September.
“I certainly understand the concern and what I would say is that currently about 40% of patients who are waiting for a transplant die before they receive one,” he told BBC.
“We use pigs as a source of food, we use pigs for medicinal uses – for valves, for medication. I think it’s not that different.”