Okaloosa School officials speak out about abuse investigation

OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - School officials are speaking out after three Okaloosa County school district employees were arrested in connection with a child abuse investigation at Kenwood Elementary School.

According to the State's Attorney Office, 59-year-old Marlynn Stillions is being accused of mistreating an autistic student during the 2015- 2016 school year.

"What we understand at this time based off the investigation is there were some actions on the part of the teacher in this case. Ms. Stillions, who we believe the actions are deemed to be child abuse," said Chief Assistant State Attorney for Okaloosa County, William Bishop.

Those allegations include spraying special needs children in the face with vinegar or water as punishment, using her foot to try and control, move, and push children on the floor and kneeing the victim in the chin.

"Several people had contacted the principal of what they have seen or heard, expressed their concerns. No phone call was ever made by Ms. Vaughan, the principal concerning the statements or suspected child abuse," said Bishop. "It is our understanding that an investigator, Mr. Ardent Farely was assigned to conduct an investigation into the action that had occurred and some of the other matters in the school and that he completed reports of which made certain factual findings that occurred that we believe constitute child abuse. And also made recommendations in that report that people need to be trained better."

Okaloosa County Superintendent of Schools, Mary Beth Jackson released a statement on the district's Facebook page:

"Child abuse or any mistreatment of students is unacceptable in any form, in any place, at any time. The district does not condone any such conduct. We have fully cooperated with the Department of Children and Families in its first investigation of these allegations.

It was our understanding that the Department of Children and Families closed their investigation as unfounded. The district has also fully cooperated with the Sheriff's office in this separate investigation.

We will continue to cooperate with all agencies until this matter is brought to a conclusion.

Further, I want to be absolutely clear that there is no truth whatsoever that this school district in any manner covered up these allegations or the investigation into these matters.

Any suggestion otherwise is simply false."

"Even after that no report was ever made to the Department of Children and Families hotline which school system employees would have been required to report that information to DXF hotline," said Bishop.

Okaloosa School Board Vice-Chairman Dewey Destin (District 2) also made a statement to NewsChannel 7 saying safety was a number one priority and that is why they have deputies in every school. He said, "abuse is something we cannot have and if we find any holes in our system that protects students, then we will take appropriate action to plug those holes."

Destin also finished by stating "justice will be served."

"We take these investigations very, very seriously," added Bishop. "Basically at this time we have looked at all reports and so far have determined those three individuals are the appropriate individuals to charge. They were in a supervisory role and obviously would have had the responsibility to report that and failed to do so."

Stillions is charged with four counts of child abuse.

The two other being charged are school district employee and investigator, Arden Farley, and former Kenwood Elementary School Principal Angelyn Vaughan for failure to report suspected child abuse.

"So far we have determined those three individuals are the appropriate individuals to charge. They were in a supervisory role and obviously would have had the responsibility to report that and failed to do so," said Bishop.