Breaking News: Ex-Oakleaf girls weightlifting coach arrested in ‘misconduct’ case

Zoey Fields

Former Oakleaf High School girls’ weightlifting Coach Ben White was arrested Thursday for lewd or lascivious molestation against a victim between the ages of 12 and 17, according to the Clay County Clerk of Court and Comptroller’s Office.

NewsBreak first reported this investigation in March of 2023 after allegations of “misconduct” were reported to the Clay County school district by student athletes.

On February 23, 2023, a report regarding sexual allegations was made against White, 40, of Jacksonville, to the Clay County School Board Police Department. It was reported that White began to communicate with the victim through text messages around Aug. 20, 2021, according to the affidavit for the arrest warrant.

“Flirtatious language” was found in the text messages between White and the student from Aug. 2021 through Nov. 2022, investigators found.

It should be noted that this case has been handled by two detectives with the Clay County School Board Police Department. Information was collected between February 2023 and June 2023 by one detective before the case was transferred to another investigator with the school board police department.

During the initial investigation, several other students were reported as being victimized by the defendant, according to the affidavit for the arrest warrant. Reports by victims were made on Feb. 16, three reports were made on March 8 and another report made on March 22, 2023, investigators said.

White resigned from the position of head girl’s weightlifting coach and football team defensive coordinator at Oakleaf High at the end of January 2023 to take on the head football coach position at Pedro Menendez High School in the St. Johns County School District.

Clay County School Board Police Department detectives conducted an interview with White at Pedro Menendez High School on March 6, 2023. They told White they wanted to ask him about the text messages he sent to students and allegations of “improper touching of students” at Oakleaf High School. It is noted that “many” female students had accused him of touching them inappropriately.

A large majority of the case files have been redacted including White’s interview responses with investigators. On Friday (Aug. 18) a notice for confidentiality due to pending litigation was filed for this case. New information could be withheld due to this filing.
Ben WhitePhoto byTony Salazar

White began his position at Pedro Menendez High School on February 10, 2023, according to St. Johns County School District Chief of Community Relations Christina Upchurch. He resigned from the position on March 6; the same day investigators questioned him at the school.

“He was not with us very long and was still in his probation period,” Upchurch said.

A warrant for White’s arrest was issued Aug. 17 and White later turned himself in to the Clay County Jail. His bond is set at $100,003. He is scheduled to be in court for a review of the case on Sept. 26 at 9 a.m. in Clay County Courtroom 12.

An email from the Pedro Menendez High School Athletic Director Matt McCool was sent out to faculty after White resigned. Below is the email:

“The football meeting for March 8, 2023, has been canceled at this time. Unfortunately, Coach White resigned, effective immediately, due to personal reasons. We are going to post this position and try to have it filled as soon as possible. We appreciate your patience during this time.”

White was also going to be a teacher, providing exceptional student education (ESE) support at Pedro Menendez High School.

White told McCool that his resignation was for “personal reasons.” McCool said the decision was solely up to White and was not a disciplinary matter.

“It was not until after White left Oakleaf High School that a student stepped forward sharing concerns about his behavior,” Clay County School District Coordinator of Communications Terri Dennis said.

Below is the statement the Clay County school district issued on March 21 regarding the investigation:

"Clay County District Schools takes all employee/student allegations seriously. Once this employee resigned on their own to seek a job opportunity in another county, a student-athlete shared concerns of misconduct and CCDS immediately began investigating the incident with the school administration, Clay County District Schools Police Department, and Human Resources. CCDS Human Resources department has reported this former employee to professional practices services with the Florida Department of Education. Clay County District Schools Police Department is still investigating this incident and the former employee, and therefore we cannot comment further pending the investigation."

The Office of Professional Practices Services (PPS) investigates alleged misconduct by educators in Florida who hold an educator’s certificate and pursues disciplinary actions against the certificates of educators found to have committed acts of misconduct, according to the Florida Department of Education webpage.

Clay County District Schools’ Human Resources department began the internal investigation in February and reported this incident to Professional Practices Services on March 22, 2023, Dennis said.

The Clay County School Board Police Department, in cooperation with the State Attorney’s Office, investigated this incident, she said.

Below is the district’s most recent statement regarding the case:

"After the employee’s resignation in February 2023 to accept a position with another school district, allegations came forth regarding the employee. Clay County District Schools Police Department and Human Resources Department immediately began an investigation on the former employee. The District will not be commenting further to ensure there is no disruption to the case and to protect the privacy of those involved."

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Accredited journalist with experience covering a wide range of stories consisting of breaking news, city and county government, crime and courts, feature stories and local interest. Twitter: @zoeyfields0

Jacksonville, FL

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