Board Chairman Lamar White: “I believe it is worthwhile to review the three recent cases reported in the news media. It’s a matter of personal privilege, and in my mind it’s a matter of integrity as well.”
NICEVILLE — As a cloud of multiple investigations hangs over the Okaloosa County School District, the School Board is looking to revamp, rewrite and, in some cases, introduce new policies relating to child abuse, harassment and civil rights violations.
At its workshop Thursday morning, the Board, Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson and school district attorney Jeff McInnis discussed ways to “put some teeth” into policies that were previously unclear or ineffective. The overarching theme of the discussions was the issue of reporting: Who tells who what and when.
“In my mind, these policies are very much needed, as evidenced by the past actions of this school board,” Board Chairman Lamar White said at the meeting. “I believe it is worthwhile to review the three recent cases reported in the news media. It’s a matter of personal privilege, and in my mind it’s a matter of integrity as well.”
White was referring to the cases of Marlynn Stillions, a special education teacher at Kenwood Elementary School arrested Sept. 13 on four counts of alleged felony child abuse; Roy Frazier, a Silver Sands teacher who had his teaching certificate revoked by the state in June for physically abusing students; and Stephen Hall, a district employee who, despite being investigated for multiple sexual harassment complaints, was transferred to other schools within the district at least twice.
In all three cases, the School Board said it was not made aware of the various allegations and investigations. In the case of Stillions, the father of the special needs child alleged to have suffered abuse, Eddie Perillo, said he was not notified of the school district investigation involving his child for nearly a year following its completion.
Informing the parents
Focused on the revelations from the Perillo case, one major policy overhaul that could be voted on deals with notifying parents of investigations in which their children may have been abused, harassed or had their civil rights violated. Currently, there appears to be no district-wide protocol for informing parents of such investigations.
McInnis proposed a protocol in which the Superintendent would be required to notify a parent of an investigation resulting from a formal equity complaint, so long as the Department of Children and Families (DCF) was not involved.
“What we’re trying to do is be sure we provide appropriate notification to parents, but at the same time, there are situations when DCF or law enforcement are saying to the school district [that they] will notify the parent at the appropriate time because [they] don’t need there to be any interference by our investigation,” McInnis said.
Board member Rodney Walker accused McInnis of “double talking” and said the district should not have to rely on DCF to inform a parent of an investigation in which a school employee was placed on administrative leave.
“To me, if we go so far as to go ahead and put an employee on administrative leave because we’ve decided that employee has done some type of activity, then I think it should be our responsibility to make sure the parents know this employee has done something necessary to put them on administrative leave,” Walker said.
“In all cases, we want the parent notified,” McInnis later replied. “It was just a matter of whether we’re supposed to make the call or they (DCF or law enforcement) are supposed to make the call.”
Informing the Board
Another policy the Board plans to tackle relates to how and when the Board itself is notified of investigations pertaining to school employees.
The move comes after a Daily News report revealed Hall, a district employee who for years was accused of sexual harassment by various school employees, was allowed to transfer between schools despite confirming district investigations that he sexually harassed female employees.
In that case, the Board said they were not aware of the investigations when they voted to transfer Hall.
A revision to current policy would require that the Board be notified by the Superintendent if an investigation is closed that does not require Board action, as well as if an investigation confirms allegations that an employee has abused, harassed or violated the civil rights of a student or another employee.
McInnis said the Board would be notified when an investigation was concluded, but not while it was ongoing.
“Until an investigation is concluded, I think there are a lot of issues with beginning to notify the School Board members what’s going on because we don’t know at that point whether you’re going to have to sit in a quasi-judicial role and hear an appeal or whatever,” he said.
The policies will continue to be drafted and discussed before they are put before the Board for a vote. The next school board meeting is scheduled for Monday at the Niceville Central Administration Complex.