Three days. That’s how long it took for new Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to make a major impact on the people of Northwest Florida.
DeSantis did something on Day 3 that former Gov. Rick Scott refused to do for more than a year: He removed Mary Beth Jackson from office.
Technically, the Okaloosa County schools superintendent was suspended. She won’t receive pay, and she has the option to go before a Florida Senate panel to keep her job. We implore Ms. Jackson not to do that.
It’s time to allow the School District to move beyond its child abuse scandal that has seen multiple indictments, a teacher sentenced to seven years in prison and a cloud over what once was one of the best school districts in the state.
The reasons for Jackson’s removal are laid out in Executive Order 19-13. The five-page document spends just more than four pages laying out the facts of the case:
Jackson was superintendent. Jackson was the subject of two Okaloosa County grand jury reports. Based on the content of those two reports, Jackson has failed as a superintendent. Jackson’s staff didn’t report child abuse by a teacher to any of the appropriate authorities. Jackson failed to implement proper procedures for reporting child abuse and for removing teachers who face allegations involving the “health or safety of a student.”
She failed to provide “adequate, necessary and frequent” training on multiple subjects, including child abuse. She is responsible for the conduct of school personnel. She “failed her responsibilities and duties to the parents and students of the Okaloosa County School District.” She “has contravened her oath of office as set forth in Article II, section 5, of the Florida Constitution, to ‘… faithfully perform the duties’ ” of a superintendent.
Beyond the scope of the executive order, the lack of support throughout the community has done tremendous damage to the students of Okaloosa County. Most notably, the district abandoned a bid to put before voters a half-cent surtax referendum on last November’s ballot. The district knew it never would have been able to gain public support for any major project with Jackson at the helm. It first had to get its house in order.
Now, a tremendous burden is placed on the shoulders of new Superintendent Marcus Chambers. He must work to regain the trust of students, parents and taxpayers. He has to open the door to transparency and honesty. He has to move an entire School District forward while many in the community lack trust for him because he was an assistant superintendent under Jackson.
We hope the community will give Chambers a chance to show he has the ability to lead this district. If he doesn’t, we hope he won’t run for office in 2020; our children deserve better.
But we also believe this shouldn’t be the end of story of Jackson’s era. If there are any hidden documents or other evidence that prove other wrongdoing, they should be brought to light.
It’s a new day for Okaloosa County Schools. Let’s make the most of it.