“I think they essentially covered up the abuse to protect themselves and their teachers. Hopefully, this brings to light what’s been going on and puts a stop to it. Changes need to be made.”
WENDY VICTORA @WendyVnwfdn
FORT WALTON BEACH — Eddie Perillo embraced his son with a kiss Wednesday after receiving word that three people were arrested in connection with the young boy’s child cruelty case.
Perillo, who pushed 6-year-old Noah on a swing set at their home, said he believes it’s only the beginning of Okaloosa County School District employees being held accountable for child abuse or failure to report child abuse.
“I think they essentially covered up the abuse to protect themselves and their teachers,” Perillo said. “Hopefully, this brings to light what’s been going on and puts a stop to it. Changes need to be made.”
Among Wednesday’s arrests were former Kenwood Elementary School special education teacher Marlynn Stillions, school district investigator Arden Farley and former Kenwood principal Angelyn Vaughan.
Warrants were issued for the three arrests Tuesday in connection with a 2016 child abuse investigation involving Stillions.
According to the school district investigative report, dated June 7, 2016 in its initial filing, in addition to the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office arrest report, Stillions sprayed students in the face with vinegar, used her feet to control students, yelled and displayed erratic behavior.
She also allegedly kneed a victim in the chin “with enough force to move his head each time she struck him,” her arrest report said. On another occasion, she is accused of sticking out her foot and tripping the victim, who was then comforted by another school employee.
Although the victim’s name was redacted in both reports, Perillo contacted the Sheriff’s Office in May after requesting a copy of the school district’s “Investigative Summary Report” and learning Noah was the victim of Stillions’ alleged abuse. He only found out about the abuse and the investigation from another parent a year after it ended.
Perillo said the abuse investigation explained why Noah — who is non-verbal and autistic — became aggressive and afraid of a spray bottle used to wash his hair.
The Sheriff’s Office then launched a criminal investigation against Stillions.
When questioned by Sheriff’s Office investigators July 7, Stillions denied most of the allegations and had excuses for allegations that had been confirmed in a 2016 school district investigation.
Stillions taught 3- and 4-year-old students in a pre-K program for students with special needs.
“Numerous witnesses described the defendant’s behavior against (the victim) as inappropriate and not acceptable behavior as an educator,” according to her arrest report. “At the time of these incidents, the victim was diagnosed with autism and non-verbal. (The victim) could not articulate what was happening to him while at school.”
Stillions, a 59-year-old Destin woman, turned herself in to the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office early Wednesday afternoon after being charged with four counts of felony child abuse without great bodily harm.
Vaughan, 61, of Fort Walton Beach, who was the principal of Kenwood at the time of the alleged abuse, and Arden Farley, 70, of Niceville, who investigated the abuse reports, were both charged with multiple felony counts of failure to report suspected child abuse and turned themselves in earlier Wednesday. Both were made aware of the suspected abuse but failed to report it to the Florida Department of Children and Families Abuse Hotline, according to their arrest reports.
“Despite all of these concerning allegations, he failed to make a mandatory report to the Florida Department of Children and Families Abuse Hotline as required by Florida Law,” Farley’s arrest report said. “Instead, he conducted his own investigation and ‘confirmed’ some of the allegations and ‘unconfirmed’ other allegations.”
Vaughan was charged with three counts of failure to report suspected abuse, while Farley was charged with four counts of the same charge.
When a Sheriff’s Office investigator asked one of the school employees why she didn’t report the abuse, she said she believed the teacher or the principal were responsible for calling the hotline.
The alleged abuse surfaced at the end of the 2015-16 school year and was investigated by Farley. He interviewed 21 people, most of whom shared concerns about Stillions’ behavior with children.
Because district officials failed to notify Stillions of the investigation in a timely manner, as required by her teacher’s union contract, she did not face more serious ramifications.
The Northwest Florida Daily News was made aware of the investigation and the alleged abuse after Perillo contacted the newspaper in July and shared the district’s internal investigation document, with the victims’ names redacted.
Stillions has been on paid administrative leave as of early August.
Vaughan apparently is no longer with the school district. She is the principal of Cinco Christian School in Cinco Bayou, according to school officials.
According to documents obtained by the Daily News, Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson was aware of Farley’s report and cautioned district employees against talking about it with the media in an email communication. All communication was to come from Henry Kelley, Program Director for Community Affairs and spokesman for the district.
Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Michele Nicholson said investigators asked the State Attorney’s Office to sign off on warrants for additional arrests, but that only three were signed. She said Jackson was not one of the suspects.
Jackson provided an official written statement at 6 p.m. Wednesday, stating child abuse or any mistreatment of students is unacceptable in any form, in any place, at any time.
Jackson said the school district does not condone such conduct.
“We have fully cooperated with the Department of Children and Families in its first investigation of these allegations,” Jackson said. “It was our understanding that the Department of Children and Families closed their investigation as unfounded.”
Jackson said the district has also fully cooperated with the Sheriff’s Office in the recent investigation.
“We will continue to cooperate with all agencies until this matter is brought to a conclusion,” she said.
Jackson concluded her statement by insisting there is “no truth whatsoever” that the school district in any manner covered up the allegations or the investigation into the case.
“Any suggestions otherwise is simply false,” she said.
For now, Perillo said he hopes his son’s story will spark the necessary changes within the school district.
He said since Noah was placed under another Kenwood teacher’s care, “it’s been night and day.”
“His IEP (Individualized Education Program) doesn’t have a behavior contract anymore,” Perillo said. “He’s not aggressive. He’s happy, talking more, talks Spanish. He’s just a totally different child.”
Be the first to comment on "TOP STORY OF 2017: SEPT. 14 – Three arrested in child cruelty case"