JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A major law firm is taking on clients related to the multiple investigations into teachers at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, News4JAX learned Monday.
After allegations surfaced, the State Attorney’s Office, along with DCPS Police and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, has identified about 140 students they want to interview. The students have been identified based on class rosters and participation in certain programs in recent years, according to DA Principal Tina Wilson.
A scandal recently rocked the school following the arrest of longtime music teacher Jeffrey Clayton who is charged with lewd conduct involving a student.
Two other teachers have also been removed from the classroom as investigations into them are underway.
A former student — who asked to remain anonymous — told News4JAX this investigation presents an opportunity for the school’s culture to change.
She said when she attended DA in the early ‘00s, it was a toxic environment that fostered predatory behavior. The former student — as well as others — said this investigation should have happened years ago.
“If they would have stepped in, some things that happened to me wouldn’t have happened,” the former Douglas Anderson student said.
The former student said she and her classmates were groomed at the performing arts school.
‘It changed the whole trajectory of my life,” the student said. “And a lot of my friends, they call me hysterically crying...it should have gone a different way.”
She said the problem is bigger than Jeffrey Clayton. She described a culture of chumminess between students and teachers that she now sees as inappropriate. She also said the pressure of a competitive arts environment fostered emotional abuse.
“Toxic, hostile, but in the same breath, this was the form of discipline that we thought it was going to take to get us to the next level,” she said.
Clayton’s arrest last month prompted an outrage about how the district handled complaints about his behavior in previous years.
School district leaders have pledged to do better. Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene announced Friday several steps the district will take.
“…to address the culture of the school and ensure we do everything possible so that current and future students experience all the greatness that DA has to offer within a school climate and culture that is as emotionally and physically safe as possible.”
An outside law firm will work with the school board and the City’s Office of General Counsel to investigate employment behavior and how DA has handled allegations in the past. DA’s principal said the State Attorney’s office, in concert with School Police and JSO, has identified about 140 students they want to be interviewed based on class rosters and participation in certain programs in recent years.
The district is also planning to require additional training for DA teachers and has hired a consultant to develop healthy norms and practices at the school.
The former student said she hopes the new investigation creates change that’s long overdue.
“You have an opportunity to do something for the victims right now,” the student said.
Another former student told News4JAX she’s turned to law firm Morgan & Morgan for represenation and she won’t be participating in the district’s investigation.
News4JAX reached out to Morgan & Morgan for comment. This reply was received Monday.
“The alleged incidents of sexual misconduct at Douglas Anderson School for the Arts have had life-altering impacts on the lives of the victims, including our clients, who deserve justice to the fullest extent of the law. We advise anyone who experienced inappropriate or lewd conduct at Douglas Anderson to contact an attorney before agreeing to speak with non-law enforcement employees of Duval County Public Schools.”Morgan & Morgan attorneys John Morgan and Jeffrey Moody
The student Clayton is charged with abusing has also hired a law firm that is conducting an independent investigation.