Niagara Wheatfield District moving forward with principal search, potential policy changes

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SANBORN, N.Y. (WIVB) – The search is on for a new principal for Niagara Wheatfield High School.

Video from the district web site showed the school board voting to accept embattled principal Michael Mann’s resignation at a meeting Wednesday night.

Mann had been on administrative leave since June as an investigation unfolded into his handling of a rape case involving two students.

In May, Elias Dowdy pleaded guilty to raping another student in an off-campus incident in summer 2018.

Despite an order of protection being issued and presented to school leaders at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, Dowdy was allowed to go to school – with his victim – through his senior year until May 31.

“I know that my daughter is not the first rape victim forced to go to school with her rapist, but she will be the last,” the victim’s mother told the school board Wednesday during a public comment period.

News 4 is not identifying the mother by name so as not to inadvertently identify the victim. Our policy is not to identify victims of sexual assault.

The victim’s mother called on the school board Wednesday to make changes to their policies and procedures to prevent a situation like this from being handled in the same way in the future.

Superintendent Daniel Ljiljanich told the school board meeting the district is looking into its policies.

“Certainly some of the information that came to us from the investigation provided some helpful information guidelines,” he said. “We are looking at the particular sexual harassment policy and how that may be able to be adjusted, and that’s something that we’ll talk about as part of our next committee meeting.”

The district’s Policy Committee is set to meet again on November 6. The school board president invited the rape victim’s mom to join as a parent member.

“I would love to a part of that. I really would,” she said. “I do have a lot of ideas and thoughts that I feel would be beneficial.”

Assistant Principal Jeff White has been serving as Acting Principal since June. He will stay on as Interim Principal until a permanent replacement is hired.

“Mr. White has been very enthusiastic as the leader in the building as the interim and I would expect that to continue,” Ljiljanich said.

Ljiljanich also said the district is working with the District Attorney’s office to solidify plans for handling this kind of situation.

“We have worked with the District Attorney’s office to lay out a plan on how we’ll work together when situations occur that involve both agencies,” he said. “Actually, the next chief school officers meeting, the District Attorney and Assistant District Attorney are going to attend that meeting and share their proposal for how we’ll utilize the advocate who’s appointed by the court to work with the schools. I certainly think that will be beneficial.”

Dowdy was sentenced to one year of interim probation after pleading guilty in May. A judge will hand down his final sentence in August 2020.

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