JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – At a special Duval County School Board meeting Wednesday, the Jacksonville Office of General Counsel announced plans to retain a Ft. Lauderdale-based law firm to conduct a broad investigation into allegations of misconduct in Duval County schools.
That law firm, Weiss Serota Helfman Cole and Bierman, could be hired as soon as Wednesday or Thursday.
The investigation was prompted by the arrest of longtime DA music teacher Jeffrey Clayton, who is charged with multiple counts of lewd conduct with a student and other charges, as well as accusations that leaders at DA brushed aside allegations of teacher misconduct. The Duval County School Board pledged an independent investigation by an outside law firm.
“The goal of this investigation is not only to just get to the bottom of what happened, it’s also to fix the problems,” said Jon Philips, who is Deputy General Counsel with Jacksonville’s Office of General Counsel. “It’s also to get feedback on just exactly what we can do and should do to make sure this never happens again.”
At least three outside law firms are representing clients related to issues at Douglas Anderson, which means lawsuits could be coming.
According to a preliminary letter to engage the law firm, its attorneys will “consult with and assist” the city’s office of general counsel in conducting an investigation regarding DA as well as potential lawsuits. The letter says the firm’s communications with the office of general counsel and the school board will be confidential, protected by attorney-client privilege.
The investigation will also look into claims made by the Florida Education Commissioner on Tuesday that 50 cases of misconduct in Duval County schools were not reported to the state in a timely manner.
The state sent Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene a letter that threatened to slash her salary after it said she failed to report the teacher misconduct.
Florida Department of Education Commissioner Manny Diaz wrote, “It is completely unacceptable that DCPS did not timely report these cases as required by Florida Statute.” He went on to say the conduct is “putting the health, safety, and welfare of students in jeopardy.”
Greene responded to the commissioner’s letter saying she was surprised and angered to find the district had 50 case files that had only been sent to the state recently.
Some city leaders and district officials are calling for Greene’s resignation, saying she’s ultimately responsible, but earlier this week, dozens rallied in front of the DCPS building in support of Greene. Many voiced similar sentiments during public comments at Wednesday’s meeting. Her supporters included former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown.
“We have real problems with grades in the school, the superintendent was able to bring it up. We had schools that were going to be closed, the superintendent was able to change it,” Brown said.
Greene told News4JAX after the meeting on Wednesday that she’s “in full support of the investigation” and that she will “continue to fight for our students.”
“Today, I’m still the superintendent, and I’m going to continue doing the things as superintendent I would normally do,” Greene said.
DCPS Board chairwoman Dr. Kelly Coker released the following statement about hiring outside counsel:
“Today, our board took the appropriate and necessary action to begin the process of determining the system failures that allowed Jeffrey Clayton to remain in the classroom for years after multiple district-led investigations involving inappropriate conduct by Mr. Clayton.
In the action to hire outside counsel to investigate this item, our board also asked that outside counsel review the processes leading to the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Professional Practices recently receiving 50 backlogged teacher investigative cases, some of which date back to 2020.
To be thorough, this investigation will take time; however, it is necessary to ensure the safety and security of our students moving forward.”DCPS Board Chairwoman Dr. Kelly Coker
The investigation is estimated to cost $30,000 upfront, but the price could rise.
Phillips said the firm has experience with these types of investigations. He said the investigation will likely take months, but employees or administrators could be disciplined sooner if sufficient evidence is uncovered.