Okaloosa superintendent apologizes to School Board candidate for releasing student information

Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

NICEVILLE — Okaloosa County School Superintendent Marcus Chambers has apologized to student parent and School Board candidate Cara Marion for the district allowing unredacted information about Marion's daughter to be released into the public domain.

"As you are aware, personnel documents, which contained some personally identifiable information relating to your child were provided, and, subsequently, excerpts from the documents were released to Crestview Community Television," a letter to Marion from Chambers said. "The district deeply regrets and apologizes that this occurred."

Marcus Chambers column mug

Marion decided to run for the School Board after an incident at Niceville High School in which she alleged a teacher had permitted students, including her daughter, to watch the R-rated movie "Alexander" that was not on an approved list for student viewing.

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Marion and her husband contended that the material the students were shown was obscene, although independent Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office and Okaloosa County School District investigations determined the charges to be unfounded. 

The teacher involved was suspended for one day for allowing the unapproved movie to be shown. She has since left the School District.

Diane Kelley, the incumbent occupying the seat Marion is seeking, obtained an unredacted copy of the School District's investigation of the "Alexander" incident, and in a July 14 television interview disputing Marion's version of the R-rated movie saga, held the report briefly in front of the camera.

Kelley, who was not available for comment Tuesday, stated publicly when confronted by Marion at the July 25 School Board meeting that "the report was not shown on TV." 

Marion has called on the School District to provide answers as to how Kelley was able to obtain a report with a minor's name left unredacted. On Tuesday she posted on her campaign Facebook page that she had also filed complaints with the First Judicial Circuit's State Attorney's Office and the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office.

"Diane Kelley took confidential investigation documents from the School District with my minor daughter’s name and statements in it along with four other students’ names and statements, and took them to her home and used them for her personal campaign TV interview," the Facebook post said. "Held them up for the camera."

According to information provided by School District spokesman Steve Horton, school board documents are open for review by school board members.

"In accordance with School Board policy 06-13 and §1012.31, Florida Statutes, personnel files are open to inspection at all times by board members in the exercise of their duties," an email from Horton said. "A request to review documents relating to a closed employee matter was made by a board member and granted pursuant to this policy."

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Marion went on to allege that Kelley texted the unredacted documents to Ken Nielsen, the producer of Crestview Community Television, although Kelley had assured viewers during her interview with Nielsen, she had blacked out Marion's daughter's name "even though it's not necessary I do that" before texting the documents to him. 

The School District's statement seems to contradict Kelley's assertion.

"In reviewing this matter, it was determined that the excerpts of documents sent to CCTV contained personally identifiable student information," the email said. "The student’s parent has been notified regarding this matter."

Chambers' letter to Marion assures her the documents provided to Kelley had been retrieved by the School District "for safe keeping" and the district had requested that Nielson return any documents in his possession. 

"The Okaloosa County School District takes seriously the protection of personally identifiable information of students and has taken necessary steps to mitigate the release of the documents," the statement from Horton said.

A request that CCTV return the documents was accompanied by a request that Nielson cease and desist from any re-disclosure of the information, Horton said.

"Further, the district has reviewed and is currently revising its procedures for management access and review of personnel files," he said in the email.

Efforts to reach Nielsen on Tuesday were unsuccessful.