Jacksonville teacher gets jail time for misconduct with student

A once-acclaimed singing teacher at the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison after a packed courtroom heard his recorded, intimate phone conversation with a teenage student.

“I can still feel my hands on your skin,” Jeffrey Clayton said to the girl almost 50 years his junior.

“I feel like I’m corrupting you,” Clayton said later, asking the then 16-year-old if she fantasized about being with him.

That was the point of the sentencing of Clayton, 66, who pleaded guilty in April to violating a statute that prohibits teachers from engaging in sexual conduct with students or seeking or entering into romantic relationships.

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“You were the adult here,” Judge Tatiana Salvador told Clayton, who also pleaded guilty to two lesser crimes just over a year after he was handcuffed on campus and loaded into a police car in March 2023.

The arrest helped highlight a history of rumors and complaints about the conduct of teachers at Douglas Anderson, a fiercely competitive magnet school that U.S. News and World Report ranked 30 this yeare-best high school in Florida.

The fallout from the arrest prompted the school district to order an outside investigation into how misconduct complaints were handled. Little has been made public so far about any findings.

The recording played Friday was made by investigators who had already spoken to the girl, identified only by initials, and arranged the conversation so that there was evidence of Clayton’s interaction with his student.

When I heard the conversation, I felt ashamed. I felt dirty,” Salvador said. “…It was creepy.”

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Three other unnamed female students also testified that Clayton spoke or acted inappropriately during instruction or rehearsals, damaging their self-image. Some said they had trouble trusting adult men after being exposed to his attention.

Among those watching in the courtroom was school board member Lori Hershey, who has a daughter who attended Douglas Anderson and a niece who is now enrolled.

She said afterward that it had been difficult to hear the testimony and that she applauded the girls for speaking out in a way that she hoped would help them find closure.

Attorney John Rockwell attempted to salvage material from the recording to help his client, noting that the inappropriate physical acts Clayton admitted to were limited to kissing his student and laying hands on her. (A sentencing memo Rockwell filed specified that the teacher “briefly placed his hands on her buttocks and cleavage (on top of her clothing).”

No one alleged that Clayton had sex with his student, and during the recording the teacher asked her, “You’ve never had sex, have you?”

Rockwell also obtained agreement from the lead detective on Clayton’s case that a review of extensive text and email records found no evidence of inappropriate contact with other students or minors.

The state’s sentencing guidelines for Clayton called for approximately 34 months behind bars.

A plea deal in which prosecutors agreed not to pursue other charges against Clayton included a requirement that Rockwell ask for no less than the guideline sentence, but prosecutors asked for 15 years in prison, giving Salvador ample time to think about it.