Florida’s Supreme Court has agreed to hear Okaloosa County School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson’s appeal of her governor-ordered suspension and the state Senate, in turn, has halted further consideration of removing her from office until legal questions are resolved.

Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Jackson Jan. 11. She filed an appeal in late January, which left it up to the Senate to decide whether she should be reinstated or permanently removed from office.

The Supreme Court has notified DeSantis he has until March 20 to respond to Jackson’s assertion that he did not have the authority to suspend her because the actions upon which he based his decision occurred before she was re-elected in 2016.

“The facts set forth ... against Superintendent Jackson” occurred prior to and during the 2015-2016 school year and also ahead of Jackson’s Aug. 30, 2016 re-election," the appeal to the Supreme Court said. It cites legal precedent which states an elected official can’t be tossed out of office for events that occurred prior to a re-election vote.

“Governor DeSantis is without authority to suspend Superintendent Jackson for actions preceding the current term of office,” the appeal added.

Another document filed by attorney George Levesque on Jackson’s behalf, a rebuttal to the governor’s bill of particulars, also alleges DeSantis relied on the 2015-16 case involving Kenwood Elementary special education teacher Marlynn Stillions to build his case to suspend Jackson.

What Levesque fails to mention in either document is that a 2015-16 School District investigation that found Stillions had acted inappropriately toward students didn’t see the light of day until 2017.

Arden Farley, the then-School District investigator who looked into allegations against Stillions, confirmed allegations that she used a bottle to spray students with vinegar, videotaped a student and used her foot to push 4-year-old Noah Perillo along a lunchroom aisle.

It also confirmed Stillions withheld food from students, including Perillo, and ate the food herself or took the students' meals home.

On Aug. 1, 2016, Stacie Smith, the then-Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, declared the Farley investigation was not consistent with the terms of the Okaloosa school union’s Master Contract.

She said Farley’s findings were unfounded and his report would not be included in Stillions’ personnel file. His report was filed away in the Human Resources office and Noah Perillo’s parents, Eddie and Harvest Perillo, were never notified an investigation had been conducted.

Thirty days after Smith decided to mothball the Farley report, Jackson won re-election.

The report didn’t become public until August of 2017 when Eddie Perillo heard that the document existed and made a records request to obtain it. He then took the report to the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and the Northwest Florida Daily News.

Stillions, along with district Farley and former Kenwood Elementary Principal Angelyn Vaughan were arrested Sept. 13, 2017, following a Sheriff’s Office investigation. Smith was later also arrested on charges of failing to report child abuse.

Stillions is serving seven years in prison for child abuse committed against Noah Perillo. Farley, Vaughan and Smith received probated sentences for their crimes.

Jackson has denied knowledge of the Stillions report, although at one point she was obliged to retract a statement in which she appeared to acknowledge seeing it. Sheriff’s Office Maj. Arnold Brown has told the Daily News that he had personally sent a copy of the report to Jackson via email.

State Attorney Bill Eddins, who twice in 2018 convened a grand jury to investigate Jackson and the School District, said the argument being presented on the suspended superintendent’s behalf could only apply if the Stillions’ case had been raised publicly during the 2016 election cycle.

“Based on my investigation, the allegations of a failure to report child abuse and a failure to train were not fully discussed and vetted during the election,” he said. “As a result I believe the superintendent continues to be responsible for those issues.”

Former School Superintendent and state Sen. Don Gaetz said Jackson’s attorneys appear to be grasping for technicalities.

“Saying she’s innocent if all her misdeeds were not uncovered until after she was re-elected is hardly a defense, in my opinion,” Gaetz said.

Also in his rebuttal, Levesque contended that the bill of particulars filed March 1 by DeSantis’s office had exceeded the scope of the Executive Order the governor issued in suspending Jackson.

The Bill of Particulars claims Jackson failed to provide sufficient policies and procedures to protect students, which it says also resulted in child abuse and neglect of children. It states she failed in the specific cases of three special education teachers, two aides, and a guidance counselor, all of whom have been disciplined or face charges in child abuse-related cases. It states she also failed in the cases of Farley, Vaughan and Smith.

Four of the School District employees cited were criminally charged after Jackson’s suspension, which Levesque argues puts them outside the scope of DeSantis’s executive order.

“The Bill of Particulars may not raise new issues beyond those identified in (the executive order), as such issues are beyond the scope of the facts and issues that may be relied upon by the Senate in making its findings and determination regarding Superintendent Jackson’s removal from office,” Levesque’s rebuttal said.

He also questioned the allegation in the Bill of Partiuclars that Jackson had somehow failed to properly train employees regarding the reporting of child abuse. It said after the Stillions’ case, measures were put in place to ensure educators and school staff were well aware of reporting requirements.

“The knowledge of the mandatory reporting requirement is akin to breathing — it permeates the teaching environment to its core,” Levesque said.

Levesque also questions how Marcus Chambers, who was put over Human Resources after Smith was arrested, could be named superintendent following Jackson’s suspension.

“It is hard to imagine a scenario where a person most directly in charge of Human Resources, including training of individuals in the reporting of suspected child abuse, as well as being responsible for overseeing investigations of such conduct, could be selected to replace suspended Jackson,” the rebuttal document states.