News Article Details

Superintendent reveals having email containing investigative report but never opened it

Northwest Florida Daily News - 9/23/2017

Sept. 23--Okaloosa County School District Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson revealed to the Northwest Florida Daily News on Friday that she was in possession four months ago of an email containing an attachment with the Investigation Summary Report into alleged abuse of a 6-year-old non-verbal autistic child at Kenwood Elementary School.

There was one problem: she never opened it.

It was a busy day Friday for Jackson, who first made a phone call to the Daily News at 9 a.m. to clarify statements she made at an Okaloosa County School Board workshop Thursday in Niceville.

Jackson dedicated her entire day to sift through personal emails when, to her surprise at 3 p.m., she discovered a correspondence from Arnold Brown, investigations bureau chief for Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office, dated May 18, 2017, that had an attached copy of the school district's investigation report. The detailed information contained in the document played a key role in the Sheriff's Office's separate investigation that led to the arrest of three district employees Sept. 13.

"I never opened it until just now," Jackson said. "All I got was a copy of the report and it doesn't say anything in the email. It just says, 'FYI (for your information).' It's my fault. I just found it not 10 minutes ago."

Confusion over whether or not Jackson was aware of the details in the 2016 investigation report swirled during Thursday's workshop when the superintendent made contradictory statements.

Jackson first told board members she had never seen the report from school district investigator Arden Farley concerning the case involving Kenwood special education teacher Marlynn Stillions until last month following an Aug. 6 story by the Daily News confirming the Sheriff's Office investigation into the alleged abuse of Noah Perillo.

"Just like you, Mr. Chairman, when all of this broke in the news, I asked in August, and I have an email and a text to prove, that Aug. 6 of 2017 this year to see this report because I had never looked at it," Jackson said Thursday.

Moments later, Jackson stated Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Stacie Smith called her in 2016 and said she decided to close the file.

"I asked to review it at that point so that I could see for myself exactly what it said in that report," Jackson said. "If something is crazy out there, Stacie calls me. And when she called me on this, and that was a year ago I believe when we had this conversation, she had thoroughly investigated this and spent a great deal of time getting the other side of the story."

Jackson told the Daily News on Friday morning that she misspoke during her original statement and did not see the investigation report in 2016.

READ THE INVESTIGATION REPORT >>>

"What I didn't say, and what I should have said ... is Stacie Smith called me in 2016 to discuss that she was closing the report," Jackson said.

"I messed up in my statement. You didn't (the Daily News story), I did. I made it sound like I saw the report when I talked to Stacie."

Farley's report was the culmination of a case that began as a mediation (conflict resolution) between Stillions and her teacher's aide, Gina Mercer. But what began as an intervention quickly turned into an investigation of allegations that included alleged child abuse. Farley, though, has stated he never considered information he gathered rising to the level of child abuse, but rather school district policy code of ethics violations for inappropriate behavior/procedures toward students by Stillions.

Stillions was arrested on Sept. 13 and charged with four counts of felony child abuse without great bodily harm after the Sheriff's Office launched its own investigation nearly a year later in May.

Arrested on multiple counts of felony failing to report child abuse was Farley and former Kenwood principal Angelyn Vaughan.

The Sheriff's Office investigation remains active.

'I never saw the report'

In an effort to correct her statements made Thursday, Jackson provided a timeline of her involvement in Farley's investigation.

Jackson said she was first made aware of the investigation in late May 2016. She said Smith telephoned to inform her that Stillions would be put on 10 days administrative leave, which essentially closed out the school year.

"Ms. Smith called me and said we're going to put Ms. Stillions on administrative leave because she (Smith) needed to get back with Farley and receive the rest of the report," Jackson said. "According to Smith, Farley called her and said he wanted to investigate further because there appeared to be some mental health issues."

Jackson said Smith did not receive Farley's report until June 16, 2016 (the actual date according to documents obtained by the Daily News was June 17, 2016). She said it is standard procedure for Farley to send the unredacted report to everyone whose name is linked to the investigation.

"As soon as Ms. Smith receives a report, she notifies the employee and they have 10 days to respond to that report in writing," Jackson said. "Stacie gets the rebuttal back, then she meets with Ms. Stillions, then she meets with Mr. Farley and they all discussed this report."

Jackson said the second time she received a call from Smith wasn't until the end of July 2016. Smith allegedly told Jackson she read Farley's report and decided no action would be taken against Stillions.

"And, I said, 'OK'," Jackson said.

Jackson said because the conflict between Stillions and Mercer was never resolved, Stillions requested and was granted a transfer to Silver Sands School in August 2016.

In Jackson's third phone call with the Daily News on Friday, she said the first time she saw a copy of Farley's investigative report was Aug. 6, 2017.

Jackson said she was at home that day when she read the Daily News article confirming the Sheriff's Office investigation. She said she immediately sent a text message to Smith requesting a copy of the report.

"That was the first time I ever saw it," Jackson said. "Please don't think it's uncommon because I normally don't see them unless there is disciplinary action taken against an employee."

DCF calls school district

Jackson said someone from the Florida Department of Children and Families called the school district last month about their own investigation.

"We set about trying to find out what the result of that investigation was," Jackson said. "We discovered, or someone called and said, the DCF investigation was closed on July 17, 2017, with no findings."

Jackson said the last information she has received was of the arrests of Stillions, Farley and Vaughan.

"I don't know what happened from us hearing there were no findings and it was closed on July 17, 2017, to the arrests," Jackson said. "I still don't know what the status of everyone is because I'm not privileged to know that."

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(c)2017 the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.)

Visit the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.) at www.nwfdailynews.com

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