State may audit school district investigations

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“Under the Mary Beth Jackson administration, changes occurred in 2014, ’15 and ’16. The changes in regards to sending inquiries, clarifications and investigations to assistant superintendent were not in compliance with school board policy.”


NICEVILLE — The Okaloosa County School Board has called for an investigation of its own investigations.

Board member Dewey Destin’s motion to have an outside entity audit investigations of employee misbehavior conducted since 2014 passed by a 5-0 vote at Monday’s meeting.

“We’ve had some complaints about the way they’ve been conducted, the way they’ve been done in the past. We need to know we’re doing it right,” Destin said when asked why he’d called for the audit.

The complaints have come primarily from three sources: residents Steven Menchel and Gene Earley along with Arden Farley, the now-suspended district employee who for 22 years conducted the majority of school district-sanctioned investigations.

Farley contends that since Mary Beth Jackson took over as Okaloosa County School District superintendent, the procedures through which complaints are conducted and reviewed has changed.

“Prior superintendents, all inquiries, incident clarifications, investigations went to the superintendent,” Farley alleged in a document he handed out last week at a hearing to appeal his suspension.

“Under the Mary Beth Jackson administration, changes occurred in 2014, ’15 and ’16,” Farley alleged. “The changes in regards to sending inquiries, clarifications and investigations to assistant superintendent were not in compliance with school board policy 06-28.”

The practice of having investigative findings judged by Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Stacie Smith, rather than Jackson herself, violates the policy, Farley said. He alleges some of the 19 investigations he pinpointed between 2014 and the present were compromised by school district leadership.

One of those cases is the 2016 investigation Farley conducted into a case involving Kenwood Elementary special education instructor Marlynn Stillions.

That investigation, in which Farley confirmed a special needs child had been physically mistreated, gathered dust in the Human Resources department for a year before it was uncovered by Eddie Perillo, the father of one of the alleged victims. Subsequent law enforcement investigation led to Stillions being arrested on four counts of felony child abuse without great bodily harm.

Farley and former Kenwood principal Angelyn Vaughan have been charged with multiple felony counts for failing to report child abuse. The State Attorney’s Office is continuing an investigation into the school district that began following the uncovering of the Stillions case.

It is Farley’s stance that he did his job as an investigator but was left culpable by his bosses’ failure to act on his findings in the Stillions case.

Discussion following Destin’s motion to move forward with an audit included questions about which state entity might conduct such an audit. Board Attorney Jeff McInnis was instructed to make inquiries with the Florida Department of Education or perhaps the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

McInnis also made it clear he would consult with the State Attorney’s Office to make sure a school district audit wouldn’t impede that agency’s ongoing criminal investigation.

When asked how many of the school district investigations the State Attorney’s Office had requested access to as part of its investigation, Smith told the School Board, “they pulled all of the investigations we’ve ever done.”

Smith later clarified to say the State Attorney’s Office had pulled every report Farley had done.

Following the vote to pass Destin’s motion, board member Rodney Walker motioned to have all formal complaints filed against the school district be forwarded to the Florida Department of Education for review.

Earley recently filed a formal complaint against Jackson that alleges she had violated nearly 20 state statutes or school policies. “The heart” of the complaint, Earley states in the body of the document, involves the school district having allowed three of its employees to continue working despite investigative confirmation that all three had seriously violated school district policies.

The school district career of one of the employees Earley specifically named in his complaint was ended Monday night.

Smith confirmed after the meeting that Stephen Hall, a custodian at Choctawhatchee High School accused of sexual harassment by women at three district schools where he worked, was one of two employees terminated by unanimous vote during the meeting.

The second was a lunchroom monitor at Kenwood Elementary. The circumstances surrounding her firing were not made clear.

Menchel has also filed a formal complaint against the district. He questions the way the district has conducted two recent investigations.

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