School Board member Rodney Walker said he spoke to Assistant Superintendent Stacie Smith on Thursday afternoon and confirmed that Marlynn Stillions and Arden Farley had been suspended with pay. At the next school board meeting, they will likely face suspension without pay, he said.
Two Okaloosa County School District employees have been suspended and banned from school district property following their arrest Wednesday on felony charges.
Marlynn Stillions, 59, a special education teacher, and Arden Farley, 70, a school district investigator, face charges relating to a 2016 abuse investigation at Kenwood Elementary School in Fort Walton Beach.
Stillions was charged with four counts of child abuse without great bodily harm. Her then-principal, 61-year-old Angelyn Vaughan, and Farley, who investigated the alleged abuse, both face multiple charges of failing to report suspected child abuse.
School Board member Rodney Walker said he spoke to Assistant Superintendent Stacie Smith on Thursday afternoon and confirmed that Stillions and Farley had been suspended with pay. At the next school board meeting, they will likely face suspension without pay, he said.
“We have to be consistent and treat everybody the same way,” Walker said. “Once you get charged with a felony, the (rules) are very clear. You (aren’t) supposed to be on school grounds.”
Vaughan has retired from the school district but was the principal of Cinco Christian School at the time of her arrest. She has been placed on administrative leave.
The investigation into the alleged abuse of 6-year-old Noah Perillo and other students in the Pre-K special needs classroom remains active, according to the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office.
Additionally, other unrelated child abuse allegations have since surfaced and Walker said district personnel told him the current principal of Kenwood, Joan Pickard, has been placed on administrative leave as a result.
Farley's investigation determined that some of the concerns about Stillions' treatment of students, particularly Noah, were "confirmed" while others were "unconfirmed." She was accused of taking students' food, kneeing a child in the chin, using her foot to shove them through the food line in the cafeteria and intentionally tripping a child.
Farley's recommendations included removing her from Kenwood, referring her to an employee assistance program and getting her additional training. His recommendations were not followed because Stillions said her union rights had been violated by the way the investigation was conducted.
Neither Farley nor Vaughan reported the suspected child abuse to the Florida Department of Children and Families abuse hotline. Nor did any of the other school employees who witnessed the incidents and expressed concerns about them.
Farley told the Daily News that, in his opinion, the incidents were not "abuse," because Stilliions didn't intend to hurt anyone even though she had stepped over the line of approved classroom management techniques. Some of the students in her class were non-verbal and had behavioral challenges.
Noah is autistic, according to his parents, who both told the Daily News they were not notified of the suspected abuse or the investigation.
Walker said after learning of the arrests, he looked at Stillions’ personnel file. She worked in the district for 37 years and he described her record as “immaculately clean.”
“That’s what I’m looking at,” he said. “I’ve got to support her and give her the benefit of the doubt.”
He said he also told Smith, who is Farley's immediate supervisor, that parents have a right to expect that their children are safe.
Walker said that he has been assured by Smith that district officials really didn't feel "like there had been any child abuse."
He said during his years as a guidance counselor, there were times when he suspected abuse, but instead of taking it to DCF or law enforcement, he shared it with his principal.
During those years, he had the responsibility for testing special needs children, some of whom would “crawl under the desk and bite a chunk” out of his leg. He said it took a special person to work with those children.
But, he added, neither he nor other school board members sanction employees failing to follow school board guidelines.
“Whether it’s Arden Farley or Ms. Stillions, if they followed the school board guidelines, then they wouldn’t be in trouble,” he said.