Letter from Douglas Anderson alumni asks that investigation look into possible financial links to teacher misconduct

The letter also requests that the investigation include a public task force

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Douglas Anderson School of the Arts alumni are asking that a wide-ranging external investigation into teacher misconduct at the school also examine whether possible financial ties among DA arts non-profits, teachers accused of misconduct, and administrators contributed to the cover up of abuse.

The investigation, which will also probe Duval County Public Schools’ policies and procedures for reporting misconduct, was launched following the arrest of former DA music teacher Jeffrey Clayton in March. Clayton is charged with lewd behavior involving a student and has pleaded not guilty. Multiple people have since claimed that complaints about Clayton were ignored for years.

Shyla Jenkins, who graduated from DA in 2002, sent a letter to the Duval County school board Thursday night detailing DA alumni’s requests for the investigation. The letter thanks board members for their swift action in calling for an investigation of the “toxic culture of abuse that has allowed predators at the school to hide for decades.”

“We want to know...who knew what, when. That is the biggest question,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins has been representing a group of DA alumni and sharing their concerns with district leaders. In the letter, she said they’re requesting a public task force of alumni, current DA parents, and educational professionals that could advise the investigation.

“We want to be a committee that they can come to for context and be able to ask questions,” Jenkins said.

The letter also requests that the investigation probe the financial records of the nonprofit Douglas Anderson Foundation and the DA arts booster nonprofits to see if there is any connection with teachers accused of misconduct.

A 2018 tax filing shows the Douglas Anderson Foundation brought in more than $418,000 that year and spent more than $274,000 on travel, conferences, conventions, guest artists, public relations, grants and other expenses.

The tax filing shows the foundation was monitored by regular meetings with the DA principal and bookkeeper in which the Foundation’s financials were verified and reviewed by school auditors.

Florida business records show the foundation is registered to Jackie Cornelius, the former DA principal and current executive director of the Foundation, who some have accused of brushing aside complaints about Clayton.

“One of our questions in that letter was, ‘was there some sort of mismanagement of funds that those directors knew of that would have caused a conflict for the administration or even the district to let them go because they might know too much?” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said although she and other alumni have heard stories about the funds being mismanaged, “there’s no definitive proof right now.”

“But that’s why we asked in the investigation for it to be looked at,” Jenkins said.

The I-TEAM has attempted to reach Cornelius about the matter but has not heard back.

A DCPS special board meeting scheduled for Friday to discuss the investigation was abruptly canceled, leaving Jenkins disappointed

About the Author:

I-TEAM and general assignment reporter