City investigators who were looking into the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Foundation, which raises money to support arts initiatives at the school, struggled to get the answers they sought, according to a letter obtained by the News4JAX I-TEAM.
Last year, school alumni raised questions about the non-profit foundation’s relationship with the school. It came after several teachers were accused of misconduct against students, including Jeffrey Clayton, a longtime music teacher who’s charged with touching a student and the inappropriate use of a cell phone.
In April of 2023, a month after the arrest of Clayton, Douglas Anderson alumni wrote a letter to the school board, demanding an investigation into “the toxic culture of abuse” at the school. They said it allowed predators to hide for decades. They also wondered if the school’s financial ties to the Douglas Anderson Arts Foundation contributed to cover-ups.
DA alumna Shyla Jenkins submitted the letter.
“Does this play a role in why these teachers aren’t removed quicker, because the hit would be the name of DA…and that would also hit the foundation and the organization’s ability to raise money?” Jenkins said.
Records obtained by the I-TEAM show the City of Jacksonville’s Office of the Inspector General opened an investigation in March to review the Foundation’s relationship with the school district. Records also reveal the foundation reported more than $3 million in assets in 2021.
City investigators wanted to find out which of the categories outlined in the school board’s policy the Douglas Anderson Foundation fell under. This was important because it would determine the level of oversight, including financial oversight, required by the school district; however, the investigators never got an answer.
In September, the inspector general sent a letter to Duval County School Board chair at the time, Kelly Coker, to close the investigation, and said they couldn’t figure it out, in part, because the school district personnel never gave a full response.
Investigators also said the facilities department didn’t respond to repeated requests for info about reported construction projects funded by the foundation.
“It’s an entity that’s investing in a public school. So, why don’t we know more?” Jenkins said.
The foundation’s representative told investigators they didn’t know how the organization was classified under the school board’s policy but would look into it, as did Coker.
Coker also said she would ensure the proper policy was being followed.
“We did hire that outside auditor to catch us up, and so we are in the process of getting where we need to go,” Coker told the school board in September.
News4JAX reached out to the Douglas Anderson Foundation and spoke with its director, Jackie Cornelius, who is also a former DA principal. She said Clayton did not have access to the foundation’s funds. News4JAX also asked about allegations that she let concerning behavior slide when she was principal.
“Never,” she said.
The I-TEAM reached out to the school district about the status of the foundation under school board rules, and a spokesperson said they are working to get an answer.
A broader investigation into allegations of abuse at Douglas Anderson being conducted by an outside law firm has been underway for months.