Former superintendent Moss broke protocol, ran Hilton Head principal probe, district says

The Beaufort County School District’s human resources director was shut out of the 2016 investigation into allegations of misconduct by a high school principal — a deviation from district protocol and a change in the story the district has put forth for more than two years, spokesman Jim Foster confirmed Tuesday.

Instead, the 2016 investigation into allegations that Hilton Head High School principal Amanda O’Nan had sex with a sheriff’s deputy on school grounds was run by former Superintendent Jeff Moss, Foster said.

Moss, who left the district on July 31 after a tumultuous five-year tenure that included two failed referendums, two ethics violations and an ongoing FBI investigation, has been a supporter of O’Nan. For instance, as part of O’Nan’s 2016 divorce filing in family court, Moss wrote a letter of support, touting her as a model educator.

“In my short time here in Beaufort County, I can honestly say Amanda is one of the top 5 principals (educators) I have worked with in my 33-year career,” Moss wrote in the affidavit.

Tuesday’s revelation raises new questions about the thoroughness of the 2016 investigation, which ended with the district saying only that it had “found no evidence” of wrongdoing by the principal.

Foster, who originally told the papers that the investigation was run by the district’s human resources department, denied Tuesday that the public was lied to, saying that he simply was “not privy to all the details” in 2016. He thought human resources was running the investigation because “that’s how we do investigations,” he said Tuesday.

Foster said he only found out in the past few days that Alice Walton, the district’s chief administrative and human resources officer, had “no part” in the investigation. He could not say if former school board attorney Drew Davis or anyone else in the district worked on the investigation.

Walton declined to comment Tuesday about Moss’ decision not to involve her and to conduct the investigation himself.

“I’ve got to try and move ahead unbiasedly,” she said.

Moss did not immediately respond to a phone call or email Tuesday for comment.

Beaufort County School District Interim Superintendent Herb Berg reopened the district’s investigation, asked the State Department of Education to conduct its own independent review and placed O’Nan on paid administrative leave on Jan. 3. O’Nan denied the allegations in 2016 and declined to comment when contacted last week by the newspapers.

Berg’s decision to place O’Nan on leave came less than a day after The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette reported that Beaufort County Sheriff’s Deputy DeJuan Holmes had claimed to sheriff’s office investigators in June 2018 that he and O’Nan had had an adulterous affair, including sex in the school while he was on duty.

In 2016, the district reported the allegations of O’Nan’s misconduct to the State Department of Education but the department dismissed them due to lack of evidence, according to department spokesperson Ryan Brown.

Tuesday, both Brown and Foster did not answer questions about the district’s or the S.C. Department of Education’s 2016 investigations because of a second probe now underway by the district.

“What information the 2016 review looked at and what information the 2018 review is looking at — I can’t publicly disclose the details of that investigation while the current one is ongoing,” Foster said Tuesday.

Investigations conducted by the district and the State Department of Education consist of similar frameworks — collecting written statements, conducting interviews with the parties involved and gathering all available evidence such as videos, documents, text messages and emails. But the S.C. Department of Education investigates the allegations independently and gathers its own evidence, according to Brown, the department’s spokesperson.

As part of its new review, the school district will use outside attorneys instead of its own lawyer, Wendy Cartledge, because she was deputy general counsel at the State Department of Education during its 2016 investigation of O’Nan.

Foster said the district’s decision was made to avoid “even the slightest appearance of a conflict of interest.”

Which attorney the district will use and the estimated cost is yet to be determined, according to Foster.

Maggie Angst covers education for The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. In 2017, Maggie was named the Media Person of the Year by the South Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicago area.