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Judge Temporarily Blocks High Schooler’s Suspension Over Rapist Warning

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  • 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)

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Florida Cracks Down on “Vaccine Tourism”

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  • Florida is now requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 
  • The state has been hit with “vaccine tourism” as many people, predominantly wealthy individuals, fly to the state from other parts of the U.S. and abroad just to get the shot. 
  • So far, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses administered in Florida went to out-of-staters, though it is unclear if all those people were tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents.

Florida Requires Proof of Residency

Florida is cracking down on “vaccine tourism” and requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get a COVID-19 shot.

Previously the state was allowing anyone 65 and older, including non-residents, to get the vaccine. This resulted in people flying to the Sunshine State from across the U.S. and abroad just for the purpose of receiving it. 

According to state data, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses Florida has administered have gone to out-of-staters. It is unclear if all these out-of-staters are tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents. 

Now, people must show a form of identification like a driver’s license or mortgage payment to receive it. Exceptions will be made for healthcare workers. 

Vaccine Supply Continues to Be Limited

Wealthy people in particular were quick to schedule travel plans to Florida for this reason. According to the Wall Street Journal, there was an influx of Canadians booking private jets to Florida. Some were looking to book flights there and back on the same day, leaving just enough time for them to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, people in Florida and across the country are waiting in long lines and struggling to book appointments on glitching websites to get their shots. Vaccine supply continues to be incredibly limited and not everyone in high-risk groups have received them.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said this rule is not made to impact snowbirds, people who live in Florida during the winter to escape cold weather up north. 

“They go to doctors here or whatever, that’s fine, DeSantis said, according to CNN. “What we don’t want is tourists, foreigners. We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (CNN) (Travel + Leisure)

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Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”

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  • Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
  • Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
  • Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.

Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017. 

Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony. 

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”

Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.

“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”

What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”

Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing. 

“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  

That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”

“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”

Nation Impressed by Gorman

“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment. 

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”

Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration. 

Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation. 

Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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