Special Master Dudley Goodlette kicked off a hearing Tuesday to determine whether Okaloosa County School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson should be permanently removed from her position. Governor Ron DeSantis suspended Jackson during his first week as Governor, after Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran made the recommendation.
The state says Governor Ron DeSantis suspended Okaloosa County School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson because she failed her responsibilities by allowing child abuse. Former Kenwood Elementary School teacher Marlynn Stillions is serving seven years in prison for the crime.
“This one was that she would sometimes withhold food from one of her students. She would do a variety of things with the food. Sometimes she would just not let the students eat it, but other times she would take the food and consumer herself, some of the times she would take it home; other times she would just throw it away,” said the Department of Education's Randy Kosec Jr.
The state questioned Kosec and went over multiple allegations against Stillions.
But the question is whether Superintendent Jackson should have taken action based on the knowledge she had at the time.
During the hearing Jackson’s attorney, Ty Jackson, pressed Kosec on what actually took place.
“Am I correct that ultimately what Mrs. Stillions would do is say, 'If you want to eat the donut, you’ve got to eat some broccoli first.” Is that in essence what she was doing with these kids?' asked Jackson.
“Correct," answered Kosec.
“Okay. Do you have any kids Mr. Kosec?" questioned Jackson.
“Yes, Sir," answered Kosec.
“You ever have to bribe them to eat their broccoli," asked Jackson.
“Yes, Sir," answered Kosec.
“Every parent does right?” pressed Jackson.
“Correct,” answered Kosec.
“Is that child abuse?" asked Jackson.
“No, Sir," replied Kosec.
These weren’t the only allegations Jackson's defense worked to justify.
“The third allegation was that she was spraying the vinegar in a water bottle in the student’s mouths and on their fingers to keep the students from putting their fingers in their mouths," said Kosec.
When asked why she did this, Stillion said it was a suggestion by a parent. That couldn’t be confirmed, but defense attorney Ty Jackson says there are plenty of reasons for using vinegar.
“There’s a statement in the report from a licensed practical nurse that says, “It has become a common practice, recommended and approved by pediatricians, doctors and health departments that vinegar can and should be used as an alternative to hand sanitizer," he said.
Kosec says many of Stillion’s actions could have been addressed with more training not disciplinary action. Stillions isn’t the only teacher in Okaloosa who has faced accusations of child abuse.
Roy Frazier was accused of picking up a student who has muscular dystrophy, by the arms and feet and swinging him. Frazier said it was to calm the student, but the teaching assistant said it was obvious the student did not enjoy it.
Jackson suspended Frazier for three days.