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Newberry Education First board member arrested on charges of soliciting a minor for sex

Brandy Oldman, standing at the left microphone, asks Joel Searby a question about the charter conversion in the first Archer city meeting in February. (Chandler Hawkes/WUFT News)
Brandy Oldman, standing at the left microphone, asks Joel Searby a question about the charter conversion in the first Archer city meeting in February. (Chandler Hawkes/WUFT News)

Correction appended: A previous version of this story misstated the outcome of the charter school vote.

A spokesperson for Newberry Education First, the organization that worked to convert the town’s public schools to charter schools, was arrested on Thursday on charges related to inappropriate communication with a 15-year-old boy.

Joel Searby, 43, was charged with felony counts of lewd and lascivious behavior, communicating to lure a minor, traveling to lure a minor and using a device to commit a felony. He is being held in the Alachua County Jail without bond.

According to the arrest report, Searby used the social media platform Snapchat using a fake name to send inappropriate pictures and text messages to the boy. He later tried to coordinate a meetup with him for sex.

The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office took over the boy’s account to continue messaging Searby, leading a judge to issue a search warrant of his house. After hearing his Miranda rights, Searby opted to remain silent and was arrested without incident.

Searby’s former organization posted a statement to Facebook saying, “Education First for Newberry, Inc. is deeply troubled by the arrest of Joel Searby. The allegations against him are gravely serious and contrary to our core values as an organization. We immediately severed all ties with him upon learning of this incident. We will fully cooperate with law enforcement and be of any assistance we can during this difficult time. The safety of our children is and will always be our #1 priority.”

The vote to convert Newberry’s schools to charter schools failed at Newberry's middle and high schools, with some confusion and continuing debate. Because of the confusion over the vote at Newberry Elementary School, Education First Newberry has signaled its intention to proceed with a charter school application for that school.

Kristin is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.