School Board Chairman Lamar White: “I think it's very, very appropriate given the situations that (the Daily News) has shed light on and have occurred."

NICEVILLE — Okaloosa County School District administrators will soon receive personal training from the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Professional Practices.

At a School Board workshop Thursday, School Board Attorney Jeff McInnis announced Professional Practices will, at no cost, send a representative to train administrators who have a role in district investigations.

McInnis said he contacted the agency following a request by School Board member Dewey Destin at a Dec. 11 meeting to see if such services were available.

Destin also asked for an audit of district investigations conducted since 2014, but that request was withdrawn after First Judicial Circuit State Attorney Bill Eddins announced his investigators had been reviewing those same documents and intend to present findings to a grand jury.

During Thursday’s workshop, School Board Chairman Lamar White asked Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson to include all principals in the Professional Practices training.

“I happen to know there are lots of investigations that principals have to do in all kinds of matters,” White said after the meeting.

Jackson seemed to have no issue with White’s request, McInnis said.

The State Attorney’s Office began investigating the school district after the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office presented warrants for the arrests of several current or former employees in September. The State Attorney signed three of the warrants.

Kenwood Elementary pre-K special education teacher Marlynn Stillions was charged Sept. 13 with four felony counts of child abuse without great bodily harm. On the same day, longtime school district investigator Arden Farley (four) and former Kenwood principal Angelyn Vaughan (three) were charged with multiple felony counts for failure to report suspected child abuse.

Trials for all three are tentatively scheduled for March.

Multitude of abuse incidents

Serious questions arose before and after the arrests as to why an investigative report compiled by Farley in 2016, which confirmed evidence that Stillions was mistreating special needs children in her care, was shelved and recommendations for disciplinary action not followed by school district administrators for a year.

Further inquiry led to disclosures that another teacher, Roy Frazier at Silver Sands School, had also been found to have physically mistreated special education students. He was suspended for three days in the spring of 2016, transferred to another school and allowed to retire over a year later in early June. Several weeks after the retirement ceremony, the state Department of Education announced it had revoked Frazier’s teaching certificate based on findings similar to those reported by school district investigators.

An Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office school resource officer, Dwayne Vasiloff, resigned in July after an internal investigation found he’d failed to assist the Department of Children and Families in numerous child abuse investigations at Kenwood.

A separate revelation showed that school district employee Stephen Hall sexually harassed at least four women at three schools before being fired. The first reports were filed against Hall in 2014. He was terminated in December.

A second district employee, Davana Friend, also was fired. A Sheriff’s Office investigation conducted in October found Friend, a lunchroom monitor at Kenwood, had mistreated a student to the extent that child abuse charges would have been filed if the child’s mother — who left the state to avoid criminal prosecution — had signed paperwork authorizing them.

The governor steps up

On Wednesday, McKinley Lewis, deputy communications director for Gov. Rick Scott, confirmed to the Northwest Florida Daily News that the governor also is looking at the plethora of allegations made against the district.

“Governor Scott believes that every child deserves to learn in a safe environment and child abuse can never be tolerated,” Lewis said. “The governor finds these allegations disturbing and our office is reviewing them.”

Lewis did not disclose the details or extent of Scott’s review process. He also did not elaborate whether the governor was working in conjunction with or independent of the First Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office.

White said given the ongoing Okaloosa County School District investigations and the reality that more will come out in the future, he believes additional training for district staff and employees is necessary.

“I think it’s very, very appropriate given the situations that (the Daily News) has shed light on and have occurred,” White said. “Anytime we can provide our folks with heightened awareness and better understanding and skills is a good thing.”