Education

How is the Beaufort Co School District investigating the Hilton Head High principal?

Listen: Former deputy admits to having sex with Hilton Head principal while on duty

In a June 2018 interview obtained by The Island Packet through an open records request, former Beaufort County deputy DeJuan Holmes admitted to having sex inside Hilton Head High School with principal Amanda O'Nan while he was on duty back in 2016.
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In a June 2018 interview obtained by The Island Packet through an open records request, former Beaufort County deputy DeJuan Holmes admitted to having sex inside Hilton Head High School with principal Amanda O'Nan while he was on duty back in 2016.

At least one Beaufort County Board of Education member plans to ask questions about the district’s investigation into allegations of misconduct by Hilton Head Island High School Principal Amanda O’Nan during Tuesday’s school board meeting.

“I think the public needs to know our general guidelines for these types of investigations and then we can go from there,” said board member JoAnn Orischak, who represents the southern portion of Hilton Head Island, on Monday. Providing the public and board members with some general information would make the review “not so much of a mystery,” she added.

Beaufort County School District Interim Superintendent Herb Berg placed O’Nan on paid administrative leave on Jan. 8 and and asked the State Department of Education to do its own independent review.

His decision came less than a day after The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette reported that former Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Staff Sgt. DeJuan Holmes told sheriff’s office investigators in June 2018 that he’d had an affair with O’Nan, driven her around in his squad car and had sex with her inside the school while on duty.

As a result of Holmes’ claim that was reported by the papers, the school district has launched its own investigation.

But the district has refused to provide specifics about its new review, including the names of district investigators, their experience in overseeing such inquiries, potential evidence to be examined and whether the new review will be conducted differently than the district’s 2016 one that found no evidence of wrongdoing.

District spokesperson Jim Foster provided the newspapers with a document that outlines the district’s general investigative procedures for allegations of employee misconduct on Monday.

Administrators should begin by collecting written statements from witnesses, accusers, victims and employees, according to the guidelines, then secure all available videos, documents, text messages and emails. They should also protect evidence in a secure location and interview the accused, accusers and witnesses.

Foster said Monday that the district’s human resources department handles such investigations, as was the case in 2016 when the department first investigated the claims.

Little else is known about the district’s 2016 investigation.

Former board member Mary Cordray, who was serving as chairwoman in 2016, declined to say Monday what it involved.

“I’m not going to violate executive session,” Cordray said, referring to closed door meetings of the school board. “I know we received information at that time, but I’m not going to talk about what it was.”

In 2016, O’Nan’s then-husband filed a complaint with the sheriff’s office, alleging his wife, Amanda O’Nan, used the high school to facilitate an adulterous relationship with Holmes..

When questioned by sheriff’s office investigators about the claims, Holmes resigned from his job.

O’Nan denied the claim, saying at the time, “obviously, it’s false.”

When contacted again last week, O’Nan would not answer questions. “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.

Superintendent Berg declined a request for an interview with The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette on Monday.

Instead, he issued this statement: “I decided to reopen the district’s investigation as soon as I read in the newspaper about the testimony Mr. Holmes had given as part of the Sheriff’s Department internal affairs investigation. I directed staff to do a comprehensive and thorough review, and that process is under way. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on a personnel review while it’s being conducted.”

At a rally before school on Jan. 10, students and parents argued that O’Nan deserved due process and therefore should remain in her position as principal until a conclusion is reached.

The district’s investigative procedures do include a requirement that an employee’s due process rights are protected and allow the district to place an employee on administrative leave on a case-by-case basis based on the allegations and possible effects on an investigation.

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.
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