Sex Crime

NY School District Ignored Student Allegations of Rape, Sex Abuse: Attorney General

In 2019, a student was suspended after pleading guilty to third-degree rape, though he continued to attend classes for a week after entering the plea, and attended nearly his entire senior year while his criminal case was pending — all while his accuser attended the same school

Letitia James
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

New York's top prosecutor is suing the school district in charge of a high school where dozens of students walked out in 2019 to protest the school’s response to a rape of a student by another.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday by New York Attorney General Letitia James alleges the Niagara-Wheatfield Central School District ignored student complaints of rape, assault, sexual harassment and gender-based bullying.

In May 2019, school officials suspended a student who had pleaded guilty to third-degree rape, though he continued to attend classes for a week after entering a guilty plea. He had also attended nearly his entire senior year while his criminal case was pending. His accuser attended the same school.

The student who was raped said in a statement released by the attorney general's office that the school district had failed her.

“Their negligence and active disregard for my well-being only deepened my pain and suffering. In the time since, they have repeatedly tried to intimidate and silence me,” the student said. She is identified by her initials in the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. The Associated Press does not identify victims of sexual assault who have not spoken publicly.

Superintendent Daniel Ljiljanich said in an emailed statement that the school district had learned of the lawsuit from media reports.

“The District will respond to any allegations through the court proceeding and will not provide additional comment due to this pending litigation,” he said.

The lawsuit alleges that the school district's failure to protect students violated their obligations under federal Title IX protections and New York state laws. The suit seeks oversight, monitoring, and trainings for the school district as well as the creation of written policies for responding to reports of sexual assault and harassment.

The lawsuit follows an investigation by the attorney general that found there were 30 documented reports of “sex discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, or gender-based bullying,” in the school district in the past several years. The school did not create a safety plan for the students who reported the abuse, according to the attorney general's statement.

“The NWCSD’s inaction demonstrates that it did not have adequate systems in place to protect its students — particularly young women — when they needed it most," James said in a statement. “This indifference to student suffering has caused physical, mental, and emotional trauma, and jeopardized students’ education.”

The Niagara-Wheatfield Central School District is located outside of Niagara Falls, New York.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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