Investigations place cloud over Okaloosa County School District

Please use the SHARE buttons to forward this news

State attorney doesn’t expect resolution in child abuse case until after Jan. 1.


In early August, after the first Northwest Florida Daily News article regarding a child abuse investigation within the Okaloosa County School District was published, a district employee sent a text to Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson with a simple message:

“ … and the storm will pass.”

But the storm hasn’t passed, and it isn’t going to pass anytime soon.

The original investigation has already resulted in the arrests of three school district employees and the early retirement of a school resource officer. It also has spawned several independent investigations, and the future could hold more criminal charges or disciplinary actions. The possibility of lawsuits also looms.

State Attorney Bill Eddins has emphatically reiterated his determination to thoroughly and methodically investigate the many school district issues that have come to light since Eddie Perillo brought the Daily News a year-old report chronicling mistreatment suffered by his son, Noah.

“Because of the complexities of the investigation, involving two different schools as well as administration employees and thousands of documents, I expect this investigation to continue for several more weeks,” Eddins said Tuesday. “I do not expect resolution before Jan. 1.”

Beginning of the storm

The report Perillo brought to the newspaper confirmed allegations that Kenwood Elementary School special education teacher Marlynn Stillions had mistreated Perillo’s non-verbal autistic son, who was 4 years old at the time of the 2016 investigation.

The document, compiled by district investigator Arden Farley, had languished for a year in the care of the school district, whose administrators had chosen not to act on it. No one even informed Perillo or his ex-wife, Harvest, that an investigation had occurred.

The State Attorney’s Office has taken the lead in the open criminal investigation from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, which had received a copy of the Stillions case report from Perillo in May of this year and arrested Stillions on four counts of child abuse without great bodily harm Sept. 13.

Also arrested were Farley and Angelyn Vaughan, the former principal at Kenwood, for failure to report suspected child abuse.

All the charges are felonies.

Stillions, Farley and Vaughan are scheduled to appear in court for a docket day Dec. 4 and for criminal trial Dec. 11.

Additionally, the Florida Department of Education informed the Okaloosa County School District on Sept. 21 that it also was looking into the Stillions case.

When the Sheriff’s Office initiated its investigation of Stillions at Kenwood Elementary, deputies learned that the school’s resource officer, Dwayne Vasiloff, had on numerous occasions resisted Florida Department of Children and Families efforts to investigate allegations of child abuse at the school.

An internal investigation of Vasiloff’s “wanton indifference” toward DCF led to a recommendation he be removed from the school. He “voluntarily retired” well before completing a one-year probation imposed as part of the department’s disciplinary action.

Members of the Okaloosa County School Board were caught off-guard by the Stillions case, which had never been brought to their attention. Some members have since requested notification when school district employees are placed on administrative leave and face possible disciplinary action.

Frazier and Hall

The notifications helped bring to light the case of another special education teacher, Roy Frazier, who retired in June just ahead of the Florida Department of Education revoking his teaching certificate based upon findings that he abused children and falsified test data at Silver Sands School.

Many of the state’s allegations against Frazier mirrored findings of ethics and professional conduct violations confirmed by the school district during the 2015-16 school year.

The School Board voted in April 2016 to suspend Frazier for three days after an investigation confirmed six violations of the district’s code of ethics and/or principles of professional conduct.

Another investigation undertaken in the wake of the Stillions case is that of Stephen Hall, who has served in different capacities at three county schools. At each of the schools, records show, Hall was accused of sexually harassing women he worked with.

Hall’s actions had come to the attention of the school district at least as early as 2014. One of the alleged victims told authorities Hall had followed her from school to school and harassed her for eight years. This year he was working at Choctawhatchee High School as a custodian.

Jackson secured an investigator from Escambia County in mid-October to look into allegations against Hall. She reported to the School Board that the investigation had been completed in just two days.

Okaloosa school officials have yet to release a report on the case or taken action against Hall, who is on administrative leave. The Escambia County School District did not respond to requests for information on the status of the report.

Kelley investigation

.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }

The latest investigation involving the school district resulted from a complaint lodged against Henry Kelley, who serves in several capacities with the school district, including as its spokesman.

Destin resident Steve Menchel has accused Kelley of engaging him in a “harassing” text message conversation that appeared to have taken place during Kelley’s working hours at the school district.

The gist of the text diatribe seemed to be Kelley deriding Menchel for posting articles from the Daily News covering the ongoing revelations.

“You keep posting stories and making it appear the Daily News is telling the truth,” a text sent at 1:33 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, said. “I’m not standing for it anymore. Citizens like you either set the record straight or you perpetuate lies.”

Jackson has turned over the investigation of the Menchel complaint to a Walton County School District employee. Danny Graham, the investigator assigned to the case, has not responded to requests for an update on its status.

Legal matters

Aside from the in-house and outside investigations, the school district also faces a federal lawsuit alleging that district administrators didn’t do enough to protect two black students from racial harassment at Baker School.

Federal Judge Casey Rodgers ruled in late September that a suit alleging a “racially hostile school environment” at the north county school, brought by Tyronne and Lakisha Adams in February 2016, deserved a hearing. Rodgers said in her ruling that the Okaloosa County School District did not do enough to protect the Adams’ two boys from pervasive harassment.

“There is no evidence in the record that the district provided any accommodation for the boys,” the judge said.

The district has spent $275,043.79 since the beginning of fiscal 2016-17 on legal services, according to documents obtained by the Daily News through a public records request.

The bulk of the payments, $228,575, have gone to the Fort Walton Beach firm of Anchors, Smith and Grimsley, which employs School District attorney Jeff McInnis. The law firm of Allen, Norton and Blue was paid just over $38,000 for legal services rendered in fiscal 2016-17, and the firm of Boyd Richards Parker and Colonnelli received $7,277 over the same period.

Attorney Michael D. Smith received $667, also in fiscal 2016-17.

.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }

Be the first to comment on "Investigations place cloud over Okaloosa County School District"

Leave a comment