The Okaloosa County School District has closed the loophole in its teachers union’s contract that enabled former Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Stacie Smith to bury a report documenting special education teacher Marlynn Stillions abuse of a child.

The Okaloosa County School District has closed the loophole in its teachers union’s contract that enabled former Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Stacie Smith to bury a report documenting special education teacher Marlynn Stillions abuse of a child.

School Board members quietly voted in April to remove language from the Okaloosa County Education Association master contract that stated “no official action could be taken” against a teacher unless he or she was notified within five days of an incident or complaint being lodged against them.

The now defunct language stated that if notification were not properly provided “no official action will be taken nor official record kept, or referred to at a later time.”

The contract still calls for instructional personnel to be alerted to an investigation or complaint within five days, if feasible, but it no longer says that a failure to do so will result in an end to any official actions, records being kept or the case being referred to at a later time.

“There will be no room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation going forward regarding the district’s ability to take official action in employment related matters,” Okaloosa County School Superintendent Marcus Chambers said in an emailed statement.

The contract also now contains some wiggle room to allow an extension to the length of time provided for a formal investigation.

The new language states an extension of the “investigative procedural steps” can move beyond the union’s dictated 30 calendar-day period if a particular case warrants formal investigation and both sides of the issue to the extension.

It also states that if an outside agency such as the Department of Children and Families or the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office becomes involved in an investigation, the investigative timeline “will be temporarily suspended until the investigation by the outside agency is complete.”

The April action, which school officials said will not be impacted by further amendments to the union contract and a salary schedule to be ratified this year, bolsters additional actions taken by the School Board to prevent future skirting of district policies and procedures.

“In every case in which abuse is suspected, DCF will be notified, the Sheriff’s Office will be notified and the parent/guardian will be notified,” Chambers said.

Stillions, who a 2016 internal School District investigation revealed had been overly aggressive in disciplining a 4-year-old nonverbal autistic boy, used the union language to argue that the findings against her were reached improperly.

Smith, as head of H.R., sided with Stillions, and in an Aug. 1, 2016 memorandum notified the investigator in the case, Arden Farley, that his probe had been conducted outside the scope of the union contract and its findings were therefore unfounded. She ruled the document invalid and prevented it from being placed in Stillions' personnel file.

Thirty days ahead of then-School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson being re-elected to office, the Stillions report was filed away in the School District’s Human Resources Department.

A year later, the father of the boy listed as a victim in the case uncovered the School District investigation and turned it over to the Sheriff's Ofice and the Northwest Florida Daily News. Stillions is now serving a seven-year prison sentence following her conviction on three felony counts of child abuse.

Smith, who along with Farley was arrested in connection with the Stillions’ case and charged with failing to report child abuse, has testified under oath that Jackson instructed her to set Farley’s report aside.

While the change to the language in the union contract was authorized with little fanfare, Chambers — who took over for Jackson after Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended her for, among other things, her handling of the Stillions case — briefly referenced it at the School Board’s April meeting.

The board voted without comment to authorize the change.

Chambers spoke in some detail about the proposed amendment to the union’s master contract in March, under oath, when he was deposed prior to a hearing at which Jackson appealed her suspension. She has since resigned her office and Chambers has been made superintendent.

The Governor’s Office communications staff made the 181-page deposition available July 25, a day after the Daily News threatened legal action to secure its release. The document had been requested as a public record April 30, when it was made public that it would not be made part of the record at a May hearing on Jackson's appeal.

Chambers referenced the contract change after being asked by Nicholas Primrose, who was acting in a prosecutorial role during Jackson's appeal, if any changes had been made to the Okaloosa County Education Association contract “since the incident with Ms. Stillions.”

Chambers testified that changes were being contemplated and that it was his understanding the requirement that an employee be notified within five days of the time an incident had occurred or complaint made had been determined to be against the law.

Asked Tuesday to clarify the statement, Chambers declined.