The Beaufort County School District placed Hilton Head Island High School Principal Amanda O’Nan on paid administrative leave Tuesday while the district conducts a new investigation into allegations that she had sex with a former sheriff’s deputy on school grounds.
The decision, made by Interim Superintendent Herb Berg, comes less than a day after The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette reported that former Staff Sgt. DeJuan Holmes admitted to the allegations in an interview with sheriff’s office investigators.
Berg also requested a review of the allegations by the State Board of Education, which can suspend or revoke an educator’s certificates.
Berg’s decision stands in contrast to 2016, when former superintendent Jeff Moss and the district stood behind O’Nan, saying administrators had investigated the claims and had found no evidence of wrongdoing.
District spokesperson Jim Foster declined to answer any questions Tuesday afternoon about how the district’s investigation would be handled and how it will differ from the district’s 2016 investigation.
When asked if the district requested O’Nan’s resignation Tuesday, Foster said he “cannot comment because it’s a personnel matter.”
Foster said he did not have an estimate for how long O’Nan would be placed on leave. “It just depends on the review and how it proceeds,” Foster said Tuesday.
While Foster would not comment specifically on the terms of O’Nan’s leave, he did state in general that the keys, access cards and electronic devices are revoked for the duration of any employee’s leave.
In June 2018, as a first step to possibly regaining his job, Holmes agreed to an internal affairs inquiry that he avoided in 2016 by resigning. During an 11-minute interview, Holmes admitted to investigators that he had an affair with O’Nan and had had sex with her inside the school while on duty.
Allegations of the affair first surfaced in April 2016 when O’Nan’s then-husband, Chris O’Nan, filed a complaint with the sheriff’s office against Holmes.
Chris O’Nan told investigators that his wife was also seen “meeting (Holmes) at the school and taking him into her office after midnight, where they would stay for over an hour at a time,” according to allegations in the complaint.
Principal O’Nan denied both the affair and abusing her position with the school when the allegations were first made in 2016. On Monday, O’Nan declined comment about Holmes’ admission.
“Obviously this is a personal matter and, at this point, I’ll just say that I need to reach out to my superintendent and my lawyer,” O’Nan said Monday.
The Packet and the Gazette do not typically write about allegations of affairs, but both parties are or were in unique positions of public trust and the accusations include claims that they abused their positions and used a public school building and public equipment to do so.
In 2016, the district would not say specifically what its investigation consisted of, saying to do so could harm future investigations.
On Tuesday, school board member JoAnn Orischak, who represents the southern portion of Hilton Head Island, reiterated what she said in 2016 — that it was “very unclear what was done (by the district) to investigate” the allegations at that time.
But if the district does find wrongdoing this time around, Orischak said she would expect the district to follow the rules set out for students.
“If there are exceptions for our students and it’s spelled out in the district regulations, then the same would apply, if not more so, for our leaders and those in leadership positions,” she said Tuesday.
Although the district’s administrative regulations do not specifically prohibit an employee from having sex on school grounds, they do establish the groundwork for disciplinary action.
The district’s regulations state that employees are “expected to set the kind of example for students which will serve them well in their own conduct and which subsequently contributes to an appropriate school atmosphere.”
The regulations further outline that an employee could face disciplinary action, including dismissal from employment, for “behaving in any inappropriate manner to the extent of adversely affecting the employee’s ability to perform his/her work.”
Under the district’s student code of conduct, a student who conducts in “consensual sexual conduct or contact” can face up to six days of out-of-school suspension.
In order to terminate an employee, the Beaufort County Board of Education would have to approve the superintendent’s recommendation to do so, according to Foster.
The school board and staff at the high school were notified of Superintendent Berg’s decision early Tuesday afternoon.
Berg is expected to make a decision in the coming days about who will supervise the high school during O’Nan’s absence.