Leslie McCourt-Nussman began working as the Grand County Middle School’s new principal on Aug. 1. McCourt-Nussman was placed on administrative leave by Grand County School District superintendent JT Stroder in January. [Photo courtesy of Leslie McCourt-Nussman]

The Grand County Middle School is moving in a new direction with the recent decision to place its principal on administrative leave and move a longtime Moab educator into the position.

Grand County Middle School principal Leslie McCourt-Nussman, whose official first day was on Aug. 1, was placed on administrative leave in mid-January. McCourt-Nussman replaced former middle school principal Melinda Snow.

Grand County School District superintendent JT Stroder said on Feb. 13 that Cari Caylor, who was hired by the school district in 2004 and was the vice principal at Helen M. Knight Elementary, is now filling the Grand County Middle School principal position. Stroder said he sent an email to the parents of all middle school students to inform families about the direction of the middle school’s leadership.

Stroder said he was unable to provide specific details on how he made the decision to place McCourt-Nussman on leave, but alluded to organization, and student issues including bullying and staff support at the middle school as contributing factors. He emphasized that McCourt-Nussman “didn’t do anything wrong” as principal at the middle school and reiterated that there “were no egregious policy violations.”

He said the decision is more about making sure that the school is heading in the right direction, and said he felt it is better to have a fresh start now rather than to wait until next school year when McCourt-Nussman’s contract expires in the summer.

“That’s a unique campus and it takes the right person to facilitate that campus,” Stroder said. “There are bullying issues. It’s a unique age group. They are struggling with a lot of social norms and personal norms and how to get along with each other and where they are going in their lives.”

Stroder did not elaborate on current bullying issues at the school, but said bullying came “to a climax” about two years ago.

“When I came in the spring (hired as superintendent), seventh-grader Lily McClish had committed suicide,” Stroder said. “With the investigation in town, it surfaced that there were some kids who had been bullying her to push her to committing suicide, bullying her for being different.”

Stroder said that school bullying is something that is typical for middle school students across the country, but said the school district is trying to address the issue systemically in all grade levels.

“Specifically in Moab, bullying is an issue that has been brought up in the community,” he said. “It’s a unique campus, it’s got a strong staff that needs support to make it work, and we just felt like to better serve that campus we needed a different direction.”

A parent of a student at the middle school described what the middle school children are facing currently in regard to bullying, but the parent asked not to be named in the news report in describing what she has learned.

“I had talked to a few parents and there was a discussion,” the parent said. “Parents are a little more actively involved in middle school.”

The parent said that students’ usage of their phones at home is “carrying” into the schools.

“It’s the modern equivalent of flashing,” she said. “Girls are bullying other girls to send nude pictures and if they don’t send them, they say they will harm themselves. There’s a thing called suicide pacts. It’s very intense. … You might get a child who would never do that, but if they’re afraid another child would hurt themselves … then a kid might do it.”

Stroder did not provide information on any such instances of bullying at the school, but discussed policy and law as it pertains to how the school district handles reports of bullying.

“For us to be able to take any action as a school district, we have to be able to prove that it happened at school during school hours,” he said. “Legally we can only operate within the boundaries of our campuses. … There’s a perspective out there that school districts can take action on a lot of stuff in the community, but we can’t. If it surfaces that bullying was occurring and we can’t prove it happened during school hours, we turn it over to law enforcement.”

The parent said that, according to discussions with other parents in the district, families are reporting instances of bullying to law enforcement for further investigation.

Principal placed on administrative leave

“That’s a unique campus and it takes the right person to facilitate that campus.”