TALLAHASSEE — Okaloosa County School District Superintendent Marcus Chambers and suspended Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson testified for about two hours Wednesday about policies and procedures surrounding neglect and abuse of students in the district.

Chambers said afterward that he knew he would have to take center stage in the two-day hearing to determine whether Jackson should return to her post. Gov. Ron DeSantis dismissed her Jan. 11 because he said she failed in her duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of the School District’s exceptional students.

Jackson appealed her dismissal.

“We’re at a point in our School District that we are simply moving forward,” Chambers said after his testimony. “Today is part of that process. We’ve had a couple years of difficulty in our School District. We want to move forward from this situation and what happened.”

For the past two days, a hearing in state Capitol in Tallahassee was held to determine Jackson’s fate by the state Senate. Special Master Dudley Goodlette set a deadline of Aug. 1 to receive the arguments from the lawyers for DeSantis and Jackson. He will then write his recommendation to the Senate.

Asked a question whether Jackson should be reinstated or removed, Chambers kept his opinion to himself.

“I’ll leave that answer to the magistrate and Florida Senate,” he said.

While he served as assistant superintendent, Chambers and Jackson interacted almost daily. Jackson testified she would even call him on the weekends. She said she trusted him and told him her plans to skip a third re-election bid in 2020 because “he has political aspirations.”

During Wednesday’s hearing, the once close co-workers, who also served at the same middle school together, sat about 12-feet apart. Chambers sat up straight and kept his eyes looking forward, ignoring Jackson. She sat on the aisle in the front row behind her two attorneys, George Levesque and Ty Jackson and kept her eyes on him.

Attorney Jackson tried to pin the blame for the district's troubles on Chambers. As an assistant superintendent, the ESE program fell under his purview during the much disputed 2015-16 school year. That’s when two cases of child abuse came up that eventually led to the former superintendent being replaced by Chambers.

“I didn’t have any ESE experts in my department,” Chambers testified. “I didn’t have any responsibility for evaluation. I didn’t have any responsibility for that budget.”

Chambers claimed he was not aware of the report released June 16, 2016, by School District human resources investigator Arden Farley. It detailed student abuse allegations by Roy Frazier, who taught at Silver Sands School, which serves ESE students, and Marlynn Stillions, who oversaw Pre-K exceptional students at Kenwood Elementary School.

“I wish it had been brought to my attention,” Chambers said. “Fact is, it was not.”

Attorney Jackson said it was unfair that Chambers could admit he had no knowledge of Farley’s report and keep his job while Superintendent Jackson lost hers. She said she first became aware of serious allegations of child abuse by Stillions in August 2017.

“You buried your head in the sand and let the report (of student abuse) pass over your head and land on Mrs. Jackson,” attorney Jackson said. “Mrs. Jackson didn’t know about it and she was removed from office.”

Mary Beth Jackson was the last witness called to the stand in Wednesday’s 11-hour hearing. She said she relied on reports of abuse from Stacie Smith, a former assistant superintendent of human resources.

Jackson stuck to her story about failing to read Farley's report until August 2017 instead of June 2016. She complained she received about 150 emails a day and could not read all of them.

At one point, Florida Deputy General Counsel Nicholas Primrose and Jackson had a heated exchange over the timeline.

“The truth is easy to stick to,” Jackson said.

“Especially when your job is on the line,” Primrose responded.

“My job is not on the line,” Jackson snapped back.

Jackson, who did not testify before an Okaloosa County grand jury investigating problems in the School District, said if she knew how strong the abuse allegations against Stillions were she would have removed her from the classroom. Instead, she halted her transfer of Stillions to Silver Sands Elementary.

Jackson said Smith mentioned the spraying of vinegar on exceptional students’ hands and mouths and taking food away from them to motivate them to eat other foods. She supported those practices, although she admitted they were “archaic.”

Primrose asked her directly why she failed to read the report on Stillions?

“I don’t know,” Jackson said. “I don’t have an answer for that.”

On the other hand, Jackson said if she had known the extent of the investigation, she would have ripped Stillions from the classroom.

Attorneys Levesque and Jackson tried to build the case that the former superintendent made ESE a priority and that the program ranked among the top in the state.

Jackson said her goal was to “be as well-trained as anyone on earth” in dealing with the difficult behaviors of the exceptional students. She had hoped to build a school that would treat all the needs of the most severely disabled students until finding out the high cost. Jackson shared her 4-year-old grandson needs special treatment.

“Trust me, you say the words ‘child abuse’ and my blood pressure goes up,” she said. “My red flag goes up.”

Jackson boasted during a break in the hearing about her performance on the stand. Florida State public television broadcast the hearing both days.

“People finally can see what I actually said,” she said giddily.

However, it will be what the Senate thinks that actually matters.