NICEVILLE — Given no real choice in the matter, the Okaloosa County School Board voted 5-0 Thursday to reinstate Stephen Hall as a school district custodian.
Hall, who the board voted to terminate Dec. 11, 2017, for gross insubordination, misconduct and harassment, will be assigned custodial duties at a location chosen by School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson.
Jackson said nothing during Thursday's hearing.
It will be up to the School District’s Human Resources Department to determine when Hall will return to work. An administrative law judge’s order stipulates that he must be reimbursed for time he missed following his firing.
The judge had ruled Nov. 9 that the School Board failed during an August appeals hearing to establish just cause for firing Hall.
“I do not agree with the judge’s order,” School Board Chairman Lamar White said before calling for the vote for reinstatement.
Although four women had come forward to claim Hall harassed them between 2014-17, the legal team that argued the case for upholding the firing called on only one of those women to testify at the appeal hearing.
The School District's lawyers raised no objections when the judge issued his order, School Board Attorney Jeff McInnis told the board. Their failure to do so further hindered the board’s ability to take any action other than reinstate Hall.
Several factors, including the arrest and subsequent resignation of Stacie Smith, the assistant superintendent of human resources who recommended Hall’s firing, likely impacted the ability of the School District to present a stronger case on appeal, White said.
“It’s fairly clear our case as presented lacked some substantiation,” White said after Thursday’s hearing.
White called for an “after-action” report from the attorneys who defended the board’s decision to fire Hall at the appeal hearing.
“We need to know what we can do differently in the future,” he said.
School Board member Dewey Destin said after the meeting he was confident the board had acted correctly when it voted last year to fire Hall. He said he believes changes made within the district since then should protect the board in future appeals of its actions.
“Our only consolation is that we have a system in place now that shouldn’t allow this to happen again,” Destin said.
Hall, who following the hearing shook hands with Greg Butler, the executive director of the union that represents School District personnel, had no comment on his rehiring.
“We’re glad he’s back at work. I think he’ll do fine,” said attorney H.B. Stivers, who represented Hall at the hearing.
Newly elected board member Dianne Kelley said the Hall case gives the School Board an opportunity to “reflect on the procedures in place” for hiring non-instructional personnel.
White said he wanted the public to know the School District has “expectations for conduct” for all of its employees, and noted that two recent appeals of district firings had been upheld.