Under state statute, “each school district shall file in writing with the Department (of Education) all legally sufficient complaints within 30 days after the date on which subject matter of the complaint comes to the attention of the school district.”

Okaloosa County Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Stacie Smith presented an “educator misconduct reporting form” regarding former Kenwood Elementary School teacher Marlynn Stillions to the Florida Department of Education sometime after Aug. 7.

The undated form notes that Stillions had been placed on administrative leave Aug. 7. Smith has acknowledged the document sent this year was the first she provided to the state regarding the 59-year-old veteran educator.

This could prove problematic for the Okaloosa County School District, possibly leaving administrators — up to and including Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson — subject to discipline or even criminal charges.

School District investigator Arden Farley compiled a report in June 2016 in which he confirmed allegations that Stillions, a pre-K special education instructor, had physically mistreated at least one student in her care, a 4-year-old non-verbal autistic boy, Noah Perillo.

The final version of that report was provided to Smith on June 17, 2016.

Under state law, “each school district shall file in writing with the Department (of Education) all legally sufficient complaints within 30 days after the date on which subject matter of the complaint comes to the attention of the school district.”

While Farley has said all along his investigation was not conducted to find evidence of child abuse, he did uncover what the statute refers to as educator misconduct. He recommended disciplinary action be taken against Stillions, and that “This investigative report be forwarded to Professional Practices for review and/or action.”

As stated on the Department of Education website: “The Florida Department of Education Office of Professional Practice Services administers a state-level grievance process and plays an integral part in ensuring that appropriate disciplinary actions are taken against the certificate of an educator certified to teach in Florida.”

That should have been enough to trigger the 30-day reporting requirement.

“In general, when educator misconduct is brought to the attention of the district, that gives them their timeline,” said Cheryl Etters, the deputy director of communications for the Department of Education (DOE).

Severe penalties exist for educators who do not follow the law.

“The Education Practices Commission may suspend the educator certificate of any person ... for up to five years for ... knowingly fail(ing) to report actual or suspected child abuse ... or report alleged misconduct by instructional personnel or school administrators which affects the health, safety or welfare of a student,” state statutes say.

Farley’s findings confirmed Stillions inappropriately sprayed a student with vinegar, used her feet to keep students under control, picked up a child by his shirt collar and waistband, and denied, threw away or ate her students’ lunches. There were many more allegations in the report that Farley termed "unconfirmed."

State contacted a year after the fact

On Aug. 1, 2016, 30 days before votes would be counted in Jackson’s hotly contested bid for re-election bid against Marline Van Dyke, Smith dismissed Farley’s findings, saying he had failed to follow union policy in conducting the investigation.

Farley’s report was set aside and filed away for a year before Eddie Perillo, Noah’s father, obtained a copy through a public records request in May. He immediately provided the report to the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and then, a little more than two months later, to the Northwest Florida Daily News.

The Sheriff’s Office followed Farley with an investigation of its own, and on Sept. 13, arrested Stillions on four felony counts of child abuse without great bodily harm.

Farley and Angelyn Vaughan, the former principal of Kenwood Elementary, were arrested the same day and charged with multiple felony counts of failure to report suspected child abuse.

Smith’s “educator misconduct” report went out after the first Daily News story about the Stillions case appeared in print Aug. 5. The story confirmed a Sheriff’s Office investigation had been launched.

Marian Lambeth, the head of the Professional Practices division of the DOE, responded to Smith on Sept. 21, 2017. She acknowledged receipt of a complaint against Stillions and confirmed an investigator had been assigned to follow up. That state investigation remains open.

While the School District has chosen to treat the Stillions investigation as a 2017 case, law enforcement officials do not seem equally inclined.

Charging documents filed in Okaloosa County Circuit Court following Farley’s arrest state the school investigator failed to report suspected child abuse “between April 1, 2016, and June 30, 2016.”

In Vaughan's case, the charging documents state she failed to report “suspected child abuse, neglect of a child, or aggravated child abuse” between the dates of Aug. 10, 2015, and June 30, 2016.

Since the initial arrests, the First Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office has taken over the investigation of the School District that started with Stillions. It remains an open case.

If, as it appears, the State Attorney’s Office is focusing its investigation on the events of April through June 2016, the line of mandated reporters who failed to say anything about Stillions’ alleged abuse of vulnerable youngsters could be quite lengthy.

Witnesses interviewed during Farley’s investigation included fellow Kenwood teachers, teachers’ aides and even cafeteria workers.

Smith received the report in June 2016 and did nothing with it. Email conversations obtained by the Daily News indicate officials with the Okaloosa County teachers union were aware of the investigation as well, although it is not clear whether they are considered mandated reporters.

Greg Butler, the executive director of the teacher’s union in Okaloosa County, did not return messages seeking comment.

Superintendent in eye of storm

Jackson herself hasn’t been consistent about what she knew and when concerning Farley’s investigation. She has insisted she never actually saw the report until this year following the Aug. 5 story by the Daily News.

But an interesting fact that’s been uncovered involves the Sheriff’s Office actually contacting the superintendent after being provided a copy of the report by Perillo six months ago.

Arnold Brown, investigations bureau chief for the Sheriff's Office, has stated Jackson received the report in an email from him dated May 18. He also has confirmed that he sent the email containing the report during, or moments before, a phone call to Jackson announcing the Sheriff’s Office was launching a criminal investigation into the case.

“We discussed that the Sheriff’s Office is launching a criminal investigation based on the contents of the report by Arden Farley that I forwarded to her,” Brown told the Daily News in a Sept. 27 story.

Jackson told the Daily News that email sat unopened until Sept. 22.

"I never opened it until just now," Jackson said in a phone interview that day. "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."

The superintendent’s scheduling calendar, obtained as a public record and provided to the Daily News, does indicate Jackson and Smith were meeting regularly during the time frame in which the Farley investigation was nearing its conclusion.

Although Jackson documented just six meetings with Smith between August 2015 and October 2016, three of those took place between June 14 and Aug. 1 in 2016.

One meeting, notated as “RE: Admin Recommendations” on the calendar, took place at 1 p.m. June 14, 2016, shortly after Farley completed his initial report on Stillions.

A second meeting, this one a “working lunch,” occurred June 17, 2016, the day Farley turned in the final copy of his report.

The third meeting, set up to discuss “Admin Annual Leave,” occurred Aug. 1, the day Smith announced, but did not document, the decision not to pursue School District action against Stillions.

School District officials did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

Possible costly penalty

Florida Statutes Chapter 1001.51 outlines specific duties and responsibilities of school superintendents that could be applied to Jackson in regards to the Stillions case.

The section titled “Reports to the Department (of Education),” states:

“Any district school superintendent ... who knowingly fails to investigate any allegation of misconduct by instructional personnel or school administrators ... which affects the health, safety, or welfare of a student or who knowing fails to report the alleged misconduct to the department as required ... forfeits his or her salary for one year following the date of such act or failure to act.”

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It is unclear whether the State Attorney’s Office or the Department of Education is looking at Jackson to determine what she may or may not have known about the Stillions investigation during the time it was conducted.

Press Secretary Audrey Walden has said the DOE can neither confirm nor deny whether that agency is even investigating Jackson, who earns a $127,881 salary.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Bill Bishop said the state statutes regarding mandated reporting do not appear to be something the State Attorney’s Office would become involved with as it moves forward with the investigation.

“Obviously we’re looking at anything criminal out of this,” he said. “As far as something like forfeiting salary, that’s more likely administrative action that would be taken by the DOE.”