JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In a Wednesday letter to Duval County Public Schools (DCPS), the vice chancellor of the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Safe Schools (OSS) alleged that DCPS failed to report instances of sexual harassment cited in the termination notice for former Douglas Anderson School of the Arts music teacher Jeffrey Clayton.
Clayton was recently charged with, and pleaded not guilty to, two counts of offenses against students by authority figures, indecent lewd or lascivious touching of certain minors and unlawful use of a two-way communication device.
In the letter from OSS, vice chancellor Scott Strauss said that while district leaders cited “substantial earlier incidents” in their termination of Clayton, those earlier incidents didn’t appear to be filed in the state’s School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting (SESIR) system.
“OSS has reviewed the SESIR incidents reported by DCPS in the 2021-22 school year and has been unable to locate this incident. As you know, districts are required to report all SESIR incidents to the Department of Education,” the memo said. “Within five days of receipt of this letter, please confirm whether the District did or did not submit a SESIR incident report related to the substantiated allegation from November 2021. If the District did not submit a SESIR report for this incident, please explain why and what actions the District is taking to ensure that all SESIR incidents are reported appropriately.”
DCPS leaders were given five days to confirm whether the incident was reported properly and, if not, the reason for the omission.
DCPS communications director Tracy Pierce told News4JAX that the district’s files indicate that the district reported the incident to the Florida Department of Children and Families and to the Florida Department of Education’s Professional Practices Office, but that the SESIR is a separate state reporting process.
“We are in receipt of the letter,” Pierce said. “We are looking into the matter, and we will respond within the timeline requested.”
The chair of the Duval County School board released the following statement.
“Today’s letter from the Florida Department of Education further illuminates why our School Board is already pressing for a comprehensive external investigation,” Dr. Kelly Coker said. “We must determine what led to the incident involving Jeffrey Clayton and fully review district practices and policies to ensure we meet our most important goal of keeping students safe.”
It’s not the first time DCPS has been accused of failing to file legally mandated reporting of school-based crimes. A grand jury empaneled in 2019 found that Duval County Public Schools was significantly under-reporting crimes over a four-year period.
In response, the district promised a full-scale refurbishment of how it tracks and maintains data about crime on its campuses and that the district would commit to being in full compliance moving forward.
An outside audit of the district’s reporting practices was completed in February and found that those changes had been made and that the district was fully performing its legally required reporting.
Gene Nichols, a local attorney not affiliated with the case, said this issue could be a problem for Duval Schools.
“If anyone has been a victim of this before then you can expect them to come forward and say things have not been reported. The school is already in a bind because they’ve got an employee who committed these awful acts that we already know about,” Nichols said.
Nichols said this likely won’t affect Clayton’s criminal situation, instead, it’s a problem for the district particularly if victims or their families decide to sue.
“I would tell you that everybody’s going to be looking at it,” he said. “Not only would lawyers for these children who may have been harassed be looking at it, obviously looking at it, the state attorney’s office is going to care because they’ll be looking at anybody who committed potential crimes on people out there. As to what the school is doing.”
DCPS said it did report the prior incidents to the Department of Children and Families but this school reporting system is done differently.
“We must determine what led to the incident involving Jeffrey Clayton and fully review district practices and policies to ensure we meet our most important goal of keeping students safe,” DCPS said in a statement.
Read the full memo from the Florida Dept of Education’s vice chancellor of the Office of Safe Schools below:
Dear Superintendent Greene:
Recently, the Department’s Office of Safe Schools (OSS) learned that Mr. Jeff Clayton, a teacher at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, was arrested and charged with a violation of section 800.101(2)(a), Florida Statutes, offenses against students by authority figures, including soliciting in or engaging in sexual conduct.
In your termination letter to Mr. Clayton, dated March 28, 2023, you conceded that the District substantiated earlier incidents from November 2016 and November 2021 where Mr. Clayton had “inappropriate physical contact with a student.”
With respect to the November 2021 incident, Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) substantiated a complaint made by a student that Mr. Clayton, “engaged in inappropriate physical contact and inappropriate communications with and/or in the presence of students when he placed his arm on the shoulder of a student, rubbed her back, and told her she was beautiful.”
DCPS initiated a Title IX inquiry and provided supportive measures that included moving the student out of Mr. Clayton’s class and discussed the possibility of a no-contact contract.
In November of 2021, the School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting rule (SESIR) defined Sexual Harassment as, “[u]nwanted verbal, nonverbal, or physical behavior with sexual connotations by an adult or student that is severe or pervasive enough to create an intimidating, hostile or offensive educational environment, cause discomfort or humiliation or unreasonably interfere with the individual’s school performance or participation. See Rule 6A-1.0017, F.A.C.; and 6A-19.008, F.A.C.
OSS has reviewed the SESIR incidents reported by DCPS in the 2021-22 school year and has been unable to locate this incident. As you know, districts are required to report all SESIR incidents to the Department of Education.
Within five days of receipt of this letter, please confirm whether the District did or did not submit a SESIR incident report related to the substantiated allegation from November 2021. If the District did not submit a SESIR report for this incident, please explain why and what actions the District is taking to ensure that all SESIR incidents are reported appropriately.
Thank youMemo to DCPS leadership by Scott Strauss, Vice Chancellor, FDOE Office of Safe Schools - April 19, 2023