OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla. (WEAR) — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has suspended Okaloosa County School District Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson.
"There have been several grand jury reports that have been very scathing about her conduct," said DeSantis. "And her dereliction of duty."
DeSantis made the announcement Friday in Tallahassee, naming current district Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Marcus Chambers as Jackson's replacement.
"I'm going to hit the ground running," said Chambers. "I think it's imperative that we rebuild relationships in this community, that we strengthen relationships, and I think that when we work together as one community, the only solid outcome can be success for our students."
Jackson's suspension comes on the heels of an investigation into child abuse and failure to report child abuse within the district. The investigation started with the sheriff's office and landed on State Attorney Bill Eddins' desk about two years ago.
"It's one of the most thorough and complete and lengthy investigations that my office has undertaken," said Eddins.
Unable to prove Jackson had knowledge of any abuse, Eddins says his team was able to prove she is still at fault.
"She had not provided adequate training or supervision to ensure that child abuse was reported to the Division of Children and Families and, of course, to the Department of Education," said Eddins.
Following Eddins' investigation, the Department of Education stepped in and eventually a grand jury reviewed allegations of special needs students being "tripped, kicked and grabbed" and that a teacher "withheld food and sprayed students with a vinegar solution as a form of punishment."
The investigation resulted in the arrest and conviction of four people - special needs teacher, Marlynn Stillions, District Investigator Arden Farley, Assistant Superintendent Stacie Smith and former Kenwood Elementary Principal Angelyn Vaughan.
"As a result of this investigation and prosecution, better training and better supervision regarding the reporting of child abuse has occurred in the first circuit," said Eddins. "Particularly in Okaloosa County."
The grand jury also issued several recommendations for the district. They include changes in the manner in which child abuse investigations are conducted and training on how to report child abuse for district employees and the school system as a whole.
"I strongly urge the new superintendent to comply completely and totally with the recommendations made by the grand jury," said Eddins.
Chambers will serve as superintendent until the next election.
Marcus Chambers released this statement on Friday:
This morning, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis placed me in the position of Superintendent of Schools in Okaloosa County. I am humbled by the confidence the Governor has in me to take on such an important role at such a critical time.
Our school district is full of outstanding educators and support staff who work tirelessly for the students of Okaloosa County. I am proud to work alongside these dedicated professionals.
We are blessed to live in a community where education is a priority, and I look forward to working closely with our school staffs, parents, community members, and business partners. In the days ahead, I will be meeting with these stakeholders to seek input, foster relationships, and restore trust in the school district.
I want to thank Governor DeSantis for the confidence he has placed in me to lead the Okaloosa County School District.
The future of our students is brightest when we work together to make our schools the best in the nation.