SANBORN, NY (WIVB) — A former Niagara-Wheatfield student is suing the Niagara-Wheatfield School District claiming it did not protect her from sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation.
The claims in the federal lawsuit are disturbing, with the plaintiff in this case being raped by a classmate in 2018. She and her attorney, Barry Covert are seeking damages, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says the victim, “had to face her rapist every day as if nothing happened. She was repeatedly subjected to discrimination, harassment and bullying,” and that she suffers from mental health issues.
Nearly two years ago, Elias Dowdy, a former Niagara-Wheatfield student was sentenced to 10 years probation and was granted youthful offender status for raping the victim at his home.
Now, in court papers, the victim and her attorney says the district, “it failed to take any meaningful action against her perpetrators or to protect her from present or future harassment.”
The suit claims that despite being charged with rape and having an order of protection against him, which the school knew about, Dowdy was still allowed to attend school and harass the victim who was a senior at the time.
If these claims sound familiar that’s because they are — last summer the New York State Attorney General’s Office sued Niagara-Wheatfield Schools claiming the district ignored complaints from students of rape, assault, sexual harassment and bullying — saying at the time, there had been more than 30 documented incidents in recent years and not a single safety plan to respond to physical or sexual assault or harassment.
“NWCSD repeatedly and egregiously failed the very students it was required by law to educate and to protect. It deliberately and callously ignored complaints by students of rape, assault, sexual harassment, and gender-based bullying, and it failed to take any meaningful action against perpetrators or to protect victims from future harassment,” the lawsuit says, “On multiple occasions, students have reported sexual assault and harassment to the District, but the District took no action to protect them from their assailants and harassers.”
The AG’s Office says it wasn’t until students began to protest that Dowdy was expelled. Also, the principal at the time, Michael Mann resigned.
According to court documents, a mediator has been appointed in the state’s civil case against Niagara-Wheatfield and the case has not settled and at this point is heading toward trial.
The district issued this statement:
“The Niagara Wheatfield Central School District was made aware of the civil suit filed against the District. While we sincerely empathize with our former student for the criminal act that happened to her off of school property in May of 2018, we deny any wrongdoing by the District as alleged in the Complaint. The District strongly believes its actions were in compliance with applicable laws and will vigorously defend its position. The District will respond in greater detail through the court proceedings and will not provide additional comment due to this pending litigation,” said Daniel G. Ljiljanich, superintendent of Niagara Wheatfield Central School District.
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If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, help is available. Erie County’s Crisis Hotline is available 24 hours a day: 716-834-3131. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available 24 hours a day: 1-800-273-8255. For more information, visit CrisisServices.org.
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Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.