ACE director resigns, computers seized from school

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comOctober 9, 2013 

The director for the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence has resigned, after the Jasper County Sheriff's Office began an investigation and seized staff computer equipment from the school in Okatie.

Deonia Simmons submitted his letter of resignation Oct. 4, ACE board chairman Earl Campbell said Wednesday. Campbell said he does not know whether Simmons' resignation is related to the investigation.

"All I can say is what (Simmons) said to me in the letter," Campbell said.

In his letter, Simmons said he resigned because he had another job opportunity that was out of state, Campbell said. He added that he was surprised by Simmons' resignation.

Campbell said Wednesday morning that he would provide a copy of the letter to The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette, but he had not done so by 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Attempts Tuesday and Wednesday to reach Simmons for comment were unsuccessful.

Jasper County Chief Deputy Roy Hughes said there is an open criminal investigation involving the academy. However, he would not say what the agency is investigating, when the investigation began or give further details.

Jasper County authorities seized computers and hard drives, according to Beaufort County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Sgt. Robin McIntosh. She declined further comment because Beaufort County is not involved in the investigation.

The academy's governing board -- which includes three members from the Beaufort County Board of Education and three members from the Jasper County board -- have called a special meeting for 5 p.m. Thursday at the school. The board will go into closed session to discuss personnel matters, according to the agenda.

The board will discuss Simmons' resignation, as not everyone has seen the letter, Campbell said. The members also will discuss naming an interim director and the search for a new director, he said. It is not clear whether the entire discussion will be closed.

Simmons started as the academy's director July 1, 2012.

Before that, he had been the superintendent of Hampton County's District 2 since 2009. He also has been a middle-school administrator in Florida, and a middle and high school science teacher in Florida and North Carolina.

Simmons was named the academy's director after Chris Dinkins resigned in December 2011, effective in June 2012 when his contract expired.

Dinkins stepped down after investigations into the academy during the 2010-11 school year. During that school year, both the Beaufort and Jasper county school districts, which jointly oversee ACE, looked into financial and personnel issues at the school, prompted by employees' concerns.

In May 2011, as a result of its investigation, the academy's board fired one employee -- who wasn't named publicly -- and reprimanded Dinkins and then-assistant director Karen Lee for poor judgment.

Dinkins and Lee were ordered to participate in an improvement plan, to be monitored by Beaufort and Jasper county school district officials.

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