After 19 years as the principal of Wilson Middle School in Newark, John Davis II was placed on paid administrative leave in late April, according to Newark City Schools’ Board of Education meeting notes from May 13

That decision followed reports of anti-LGBTQ+ harassment in the school at 805 W. Church Street and a recently launched investigation into a Title IX complaint against Davis.

In a letter addressed to Davis dated April 26, Newark City Schools Superintendent David Lewis confirmed his leave “immediately and until further written notice.” The letter informed Davis he was not to enter school grounds or attend any school-related events, nor was he to “intimidate, threaten, coerce, or discriminate against any staff or student who is, or who you suspect may be, involved in this investigation.”

In his place, Leslie “JR” Shumate, the Newark High School assistant principal for the last 10 years, acted as the interim principal for the remainder of the 2023-2024 school year. 

A Title IX complaint can cover discrimination or harassment based upon gender and sexuality.

One parent who filed a complaint with the school district about Davis is Summer Kuehner, who said her daughter, a 12-year-old sixth-grade student at Wilson Middle School, was assaulted on a bus ride home from school on March 7. Kuehner said her daughter, who is openly bisexual, was physically and verbally assaulted on a school bus by a fellow Wilson student, a seventh-grade girl, after being repeatedly called homophobic slurs. 

Following the assault, Kuehner, a Newark resident, said middle school officials did little to intervene, even failing to inform her of the incident. Notably, Kuehner said, Davis, as a school administrator, did not follow the required steps under Title IX, when presented with an allegation of anti-LGBTQ+ harassment.

Kuehner plans to pull her daughter out of Wilson for her seventh and eighth grade years to be home-schooled. 

When contacted by phone by The Reporting Project, Davis declined to answer questions.

Seth Roy, the Newark City Schools communications coordinator, also declined to comment on Davis’ leave, saying he was not able to discuss disciplinary actions, Title IX or anything related to personnel.  

A trend at Wilson? 

The weak response from Davis is not an isolated incident, according to other parents who have pulled their students from Wilson during his tenure, and they say it has become a pattern of administrative behavior. 

Jill Hetrick is the parent of a student who was at Wilson in 2013 and who had a similar story. While in sixth grade, Hetrick said, her daughter was the victim of severe bullying. Hetrick said a fellow Wilson student repeatedly told her daughter to “kill herself,” and harassed her for months. After months of incessant bullying, Hetrick said, her daughter retaliated. She said that her daughter was the only student punished by the administration. In a meeting with Davis, Hetrick said he accused her daughter of “being a baby.” 

Similar language has been documented by parents and students who had meetings with Davis, including in a recent meeting in which a parent said Davis called a student “fragile” in response to another student harassing him. 

Kuehner said fighting has been a common occurrence at Wilson Middle School. She described it as an “eat or be eaten” culture. 

“This school is creating an environment where, if you are not doing the beating and the bullying, then you are the one getting beaten and bullied,” said Kuehner. 

Roy said the school district was aware of that incident, though the district wouldn’t respond to claims posted on social media. The school would, however, reach out privately to parents. 

“Ultimately, we want students to have a positive experience. We want families to have a positive experience,” Roy said in early June. “If they’re not having a positive experience, we want to try to address that.” 

More often than not, studies show that students being bullied identify as LGBTQ+.

In 2020, 65% of surveyed middle school students who identify as LGBTQ+ reported online or in-person bullying, according to The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health

The Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth, also found that LGBTQ+ students are four times more likely to attempt suicide as their cisgender and straight counterparts. 

What happened?

On April 29, Davis was put on paid administrative leave for an undetermined amount of time, according to documents The Reporting Project obtained from Newark City Schools after filing a public-records request under the Ohio Public Records Act.

Records show that Davis, who has been the principal at Wilson Middle School since 2004, was placed on leave only days after Summer Kuehner had a meeting with Superintendent David Lewis to discuss the way Davis handled her daughter’s attack. In the April 26 letter obtained by The Reporting Project, Lewis confirmed the leave, citing a “pending investigation into three matters related to your employment with the Newark City School District Board of Education.” 

Those three matters, according to a subsequent letter delivered to Davis on May 14, include “professional misconduct” related to “student discipline, FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] compliance; and Title IX and other district harassment compliance and/or reporting procedures.”

The May 14 letter alerted Davis that an outside investigation was being conducted by Janice Collette, an associate with Neola, an independent school policy provider for districts across the country.  

While records indicate this is the first time Davis has faced such an investigation during his time at Newark City Schools, his annual reviews done by the superintendent in recent years said that student social and emotional help was consistently an area needing “refinement” by Davis. 

In a 2020-2021 assessment done by Lewis, Davis was advised to “continue to strengthen building your PBIS system.” 

PBIS stands for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, a three-tiered system to support student social, emotional, and behavioral health. Additionally, in an undated Ohio Principal Evaluation System report, Davis scored below average, described as “developing” marks on categories titled, “establish and maintain a safe school environment,” and “principals create a nurturing learning environment that addresses the physical and mental health needs of all.” 

Kuehner described similar issues when dealing with Davis following the assault on her daughter. In a meeting the day following the assault on her daughter, Kuehner said Davis told her that anti-bullying education is not his responsibility. 

Courtesy of the Newark Division of Police

During the assault, Kuehner’s daughter, who was sitting with a friend on the bus ride home, was pulled out of her seat by her hair and repeatedly struck on the head, according to a police report from the Newark Division of Police. 

Kuehner and her daughter chose not to press charges, and they did not want to identify the student who they said perpetrated the assault. 

What troubled the Kuehner family was Davis’ response to the attack. 

“My daughter put her hand on his desk and said, ‘Please, Mr. Davis. Please help me and my friends,’” Kuehner said. “He rolled his eyes.” 

This attack came after months of her daughter being accosted with homophobic slurs by the same girl who she said attacked her on the bus. 

Kuehner said Davis failed to abide by the Newark City Schools Title IX policy for reporting harassment. 

According to the Newark City Schools website, there is an Anti-Harassment Policy, which sets guidelines for what is considered harassment, and how employees of the district should respond to complaints about harassment. 

The guidelines say “the [school] board will also take immediate steps to impose disciplinary action on individuals engaging in any way in the following prohibited acts: … disregarding, failing to investigate adequately, or delaying investigation of allegations of harassment.” 

Kuehner said she and her daughter have filed a Title IX complaint in light of Davis’ failure to follow the steps outlined in the district’s policies after being notified of the harassment. The case was scheduled for mediation on May 30. 

As a result of the mediation, Kuehner said, district officials said they would implement multiple anti-bullying initiatives. According to Kuehner, Newark City Schools will conduct a districtwide culture audit, along with redoing the anti-bullying policy and bringing in medical experts to explain the physical effects of bullying. 

The Ohio School Report Card, a government website, shows that Wilson Middle School “fell short of student growth expectations” and “needs support to meet state standards.” The school of more than 300 students received a three out of five overall quality rating. 

Sarah Sollinger writes for, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s Journalism program is funded in part by donations from readers. Sign up for The Reporting Project newsletter here.