Ousted West Fargo principal, para questioned about sexual relationship at school

Jason Markusen
Jason Markusen(West Fargo Public Schools)
Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 3:47 PM CDT
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WEST FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - We’re learning more on what led to a West Fargo principal to abruptly resign earlier this month after being placed on administrative leave.

Legacy Elementary School’s principal Jason Markusen was placed on leave on March 8, and submitted his resignation March 9.

Investigative documents obtained by Valley News Live state Legacy school officials received an anonymous letter on Feb. 13 with allegations indicating there was an inappropriate relationship between Markusen and a staff member. The claim was investigated, but documents state there was no information found to substantiate the allegations.

School officials received a report of similar allegations on March 2, and another investigation ensued.

One of the school’s custodians told administrators he went to work on the afternoon of Feb. 23, which was a virtual learning day for students and staff due to inclement weather. Documents say the custodian was doing laundry and heard noise coming from upstairs, which surprised him because he didn’t expect others to be in the building. The custodian stated he unlocked the door to go upstairs to the storage room and saw Markusen in his underwear hiding behind some furniture. The custodian said there was another person in the room, which he later identified to be a female para at the elementary school.

The investigative report stated Markusen later approached the custodian holding a yoga mat and stated he had been exercising in the storage room. This was peculiar to the custodian, as he stated the storage room was packed with furniture and other items, so there wouldn’t be any room to exercise.

The custodian also told school officials a few weeks prior, on another virtual learning day, he found a used condom in Markusen’s office. It had fallen out of the garbage can when he was changing the bags out, the janitor said. He stated he did not pick it up, but took a photo of it, which he showed to school officials.

Video footage from Feb. 23 was reviewed, which official documents say show the para arrive at the school around 9:30 a.m. The para was a non-essential staffer and was not to work inside the building on inclement weather days, documents state. Video later showed the para and Markusen go upstairs and into the storage room together, and they weren’t seen again on any school cameras for about 45 minutes.

The para came back later that same afternoon, according to investigative findings, and video footage shows her and Markusen again go up to the storage room.

Officials then reviewed video from the previous virtual learning day, Feb. 15, which documents say a similar pattern was found.

Documents say the para and Markusen are shown on video that day going to a utility room together in the morning and again in the afternoon, both times for about 20 minutes. Officials say Markusen was on a full workday on Feb. 15, and the para was clocked in from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

When interviewed, the para told school officials while there were jokes made about her and Markusen working so closely, she insisted she had never engaged in a relationship with Markusen. When confronted with video footage from Feb. 23 and asked why someone would claim they saw her in the storage room as well as Markusen in his underwear hiding behind some furniture, documents say the para claimed Markusen “was 100% practicing his Thriller Dance” while she was working on things under the stairs. When asked why Markusen would be practicing a dance in a room full of furniture, documents say the para didn’t respond. The para continued to deny anything happened with Markusen.

Investigative reports state Markusen eventually admitted to school administrators that he sent inappropriate messages to staff members, but denied having sex on school grounds. Markusen did not have an explanation for the used condom found in his garbage can.

Documents state the para “will be terminated due to dishonest responses” during the investigation, as well as for engaging in inappropriate conduct while at work. The name of the staffer has not been released.

Markusen was placed on administrative leave once before for physically intervening with a special education learner at Legacy Elementary on April 27, 2022, and failing to report the incident, according to documents. He was ordered to receive more trainings on positive behavior support plans, as well as have trimester check-ins with school officials.