The Duval County School Board is hiring a Fort Lauderdale law firm to investigate the district’s handling of teacher misconduct complaints — and defend the district against potential lawsuits arising out of the scandal at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.
As the board discussed its plan to bring in the law firm Wednesday, the district also announced that its supervisor of professional practices, Reginald Johnson, has been reassigned pending an investigation. Johnson is presumed innocent during the investigation, the district says.
The shakeup comes the day after Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. chastised Superintendent Diana Greene over the district’s alleged failure to report 50 misconduct cases within the required 30 days.
Greene said she was “surprised and angered” to learn from Diaz that the district was in possession of 50 delinquent case files. The job — supervisor of professional practices — was posted Wednesday on the district’s employment website.
Greene received resounding support from dozens of public commenters during the School Board’s meeting Wednesday, as well as during a rally Monday — amid fears that School Board members will try to oust her over the Douglas Anderson scandal.
The outside law firm is tasked with a range of duties from “conducting and completing a thorough investigation into facts regarding Douglas Anderson School of the Arts,” as well as “facts relevant to the defense and possible resolution of the above-mentioned claims.”
No case has been filed against Duval Schools yet, because Florida’s personal injury law requires six months’ notice before filing suit. At least two law firms have notified the district of their intent to sue after the required notification period.
After Wednesday’s meeting, School Board Chair Kelly Coker said, “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.”
While the School Board is the one that requested the outside counsel, the board doesn’t have to vote on the outside law firm because it’s being hired through Jacksonville’s Office of General Counsel — a quirk of Duval’s consolidated government.
The Office of General Counsel said the outside investigation into Douglas Anderson will cost $25,000. An additional investigation into the district’s misconduct reporting process — tacked on in response to the letter Tuesday from Diaz — adds $5,000 more.
Clarification: A previous version of this story stated that hiring an outside law firm could allow the school board to meet with legal counsel in secret. This is true, but Florida law allows government entities to discuss “pending litigation” privately with their lawyers whether they’re in-house or outside legal counsel. A pre-suit notice can’t be used to justify a private meeting, according to Florida Attorney General’s Government in the Sunshine manual.