"Making the argument that this is the way we have always done it does not justify the action, in my opinion."
NICEVILLE — Okaloosa County School Board member Dewey Destin stood alone Tuesday in defense of suspended school district employee Arden Farley.
During a hearing to determine whether the School Board would reinstate the 70-year-old Niceville resident's pay while awaiting trial in January, Destin argued Farley will be crippled in his defense against four felony counts of failure to report child abuse if he cannot afford adequate legal representation.
"I understand that when you go for facing felony charges, your capability of hiring legal advice is key if you prevail or whether you don't," Destin said. "I'm afraid that with suspending him without pay it has tilted the outcome."
The School Board voted Sept. 25 to suspend Farley without pay after he was arrested for the failure to report suspected child abuse in the case of former Kenwood Elementary pre-K special education teacher Marlynn Stillions. Stillions was accused of abusing a then 4-year-old non-verbal student with autism. The 59-year-old Destin resident also has been arrested and faces four felony counts of child abuse without great bodily harm.
The district's investigator of the case, Farley is believed to be among dozens who failed to report suspected child abuse to the Florida Department of Children and Families Abuse Hotline. Florida law requires mandatory reporters — teachers and other essential school employees, school administrators, investigators, lawyers, police officers — to report any suspected abuse to the hotline.
Farley defended his actions on several occasions to the Northwest Florida Daily News, stating that he did call DCF to officals of the case, just not to the hotline specifically. Farley said it was his 12-year practice to report his cases directly to local DCF staff.
The School Board, excluding Destin, used past practices to argue against reinstating Farley's pay before his jury trial scheduled for Jan. 8. School Board Attorney Jeff McInnis, upon request from Chairman Lamar White, confirmed that the board to the best of his knowledge has not suspended individuals with pay if they face felony charges. McInnis has been the School Board's attorney since 1990.
"The School Board and administration aren't the ones who have charged Mr. Farley of four felony counts," board member Rodney Walker said during the hearing. "I will never support paying employees if they've been suspended for felony charges."
Destin said although he understood fellow members' positions, his conscience could not allow him to vote for Farley's continued suspension without pay. Destin also was the lone board member opposed to Farley's original suspension without pay.
"Making the argument that this is the way we have always done it does not justify the action, in my opinion," Destin said. "If you're found guilty because you did not have the money in the first place to afford proper legal representation, it's an unfair playing field. That part bothers me substantially."
Farley admitted to the Daily News on Tuesday he was forced to sell one of his vehicles to pay for legal representation for the upcoming trial.
If Farley is found innocent in the case, the Okaloosa County School District will be responsible for his back pay.
Farley is currently an Okaloosa County School District trainer and District 5 School Board candidate.