The announcement and news conference regarding the arrest of 4 Okaloosa County School District employees happened really fast yesterday. The media was given only a few hours notice with very little detail and told that it would be happening at 2pm at the OCSO Headquarters in Shalimar.
In case you missed the live feeds streaming the news briefing, here’s what you need to know:
A teacher and two aides at a Fort Walton Beach school for children with disabilities are being charged by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office with aggravated child abuse in connection with incidents which took place between September first and November 14th of 2018. In an unrelated case, an elementary school guidance counselor has an active OCSO warrant for failing to report child abuse.
48-year old Margaret Wolthers, a teacher at Silver Sands School, and teacher’s aides Diana LaCroix and Carolyn Madison, are accused of abusing three autistic children, (one aged ten and two eight years old). The allegations came to light after being reported by witnesses to the Silver Sands School Resource Officer.
OCSO Investigators say on different occasions the teacher and aides “intentionally and maliciously” blew a whistle in the ear of a child with a low sensory auditory threshold who wore earphones to protect him from loud noises. They also threatened him with the whistle.
Investigators say all three juveniles were also placed individually, and on separate occasions, in a classroom bathroom with the door closed and lights off as punishment for misbehavior. Classroom aides who witnessed the incidents say the victims would scream and cry when placed in the bathroom, and that one was contained for up to 90 minutes.
In an unconnected incident, a guidance counselor at Shalimar Elementary School is being charged with failure to report child abuse. OCSO Investigators say Sharen Burt, a mandatory reporter, failed to notify the Florida Department of Children and Families last October 19th that a five year old student had alleged being sexually abused by another student at the school. Burt called and told an employee of the Boys and Girls Club that she thought it happened there and not at the school, but did not make a notification to the state as required by law.
It’s too soon to tell how well new Superintendent Marcus Chambers will do in his new position, but I will say that he did very well at the press conference and seems to be committed to cleaning up the bad apples within the School District.
I mean, on the same day…he fired both Henry Kelley and Andy Johnson after the school board voted 5-0. According to the Northwest Florida Daily News
There was no discussion of what might have spurred the firings either before or after Monday’s vote. Both men had been subject to criticism by the grand jury that last year looked into policies and procedures employed by the School District.
In a statement sent to the press earlier, Chambers then read,
“After careful consideration, I have made the decision to recommend the terminations of Henry Kelley and Andy Johnson, effective immediately. While initially I had no plans of making any immediate personnel moves, I feel compelled to do so in these instances. As superintendent, my foremost priorities are to ensure the safety of our students and re-establish the community’s confidence in the District to handle things the right way.”
What are your thoughts on the new Superintendent? How about the four new arrests?