State issues public reprimand to Hilton Head principal after sexual misconduct investigation

The South Carolina Board of Education issued a public reprimand Tuesday, its lowest level of discipline, to Hilton Head Island High principal Amanda O’Nan, which allows her to keep her educator certificate and leaves open the question of her future employment with the Beaufort County School District.

O’Nan has been under investigation by the school district and the S.C. Department of Education since January following a Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputy’s admission that the two had sex with one another at the school in 2016.

For two years and up until recently, O’Nan has repeatedly denied the accusations, but is now admitting to placing “herself in a sensitive position by meeting an individual for reasons unrelated to school business on school grounds after hours,” according to the state’s written order, signed by O’Nan on March 5.

She continues to dispute, however, any notion that she had sexual relations on campus, her attorney Ed Kubec said early Tuesday evening.

“Nothing in the Consent Order is to be construed as an admission on her part of such activity,” he said, calling the accusations “stale.”

The state’s order points an accusing finger at the school district, noting that when it previously reviewed the allegations against O’Nan in 2016, it was not given the evidence that was presented this time.

Whether an investigation was even done in 2016 has already been called into question, as two top current department heads have contradicted former Superintendent Jeff Moss’ contention that the district followed protocol and conducted a thorough investigation.

Based on the evidence it received this time, the state board found cause to issue the public reprimand but not to suspend or revoke her educator certificate.

A public reprimand is the lowest level of discipline that can be ordered by the state Board of Education, but it is an affirmation of wrongdoing. The reprimand will be noted in her state employee record and could weigh on her current and future employment, education department spokesman Ryan Brown said.

O’Nan waived her right to a hearing before the board handed down its discipline.

“She acknowledges the serious nature of her lapse of judgment but contends there was no detrimental impact on the school,” the state’s order reads.

School district spokesman Jim Foster said Tuesday afternoon that the district is consulting with legal counsel to determine what the next steps might be as far as O’Nan’s employment.

Kubec, O’Nan’s attorney, issued a statement Tuesday evening, saying O’Nan is “pleased with the findings” and with the board’s “recognition of her unwavering contention that her conduct had no detrimental impact on Hilton Head Island High School.”

Now that state’s investigation has concluded, Kubec said, “Ms. O’Nan is optimistic that the Beaufort County School District will likewise conclude its investigation and reinstate her as principal. It is time for everyone to move beyond these stale allegations and to collectively work toward building an even brighter future for our school.”

On Jan. 8, Beaufort County School District Interim Superintendent Herb Berg placed O’Nan on paid administrative leave, reopened a district investigation and asked the state Department of Education to conduct its own investigation into the allegations.

Berg’s decision came less than a day after The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette newspapers reported that former Staff Sgt. DeJuan Holmes had submitted to an internal investigation and admitted to the allegations that he and O’Nan had carried out an extramarital affair while he was on duty.

O’Nan was hired as the principal of Hilton Head Island High in 2006 and is well-regarded for the school’s success, including raising its graduation rate by more than 20 percentage points and expanding its international baccalaureate program, according to state and distrct data.

In April 2016, however, allegations of O’Nan conducting an extramarital affair on school grounds surfaced when O’Nan’s then-husband, Chris O’Nan, filed a complaint with the sheriff’s office against then-deputy Dejuan Holmes. O’Nan denied both the affair and abusing her position at the time, and Holmes resigned in lieu of submitting to an internal affairs investigation.

At that time, the district said its human resources department had conducted an investigation and had “found no evidence” of wrongdoing by the principal.

But the district changed its story in January, instead saying that former superintendent Moss had handled the investigation into O’Nan himself and had broken protocol by keeping high-ranking administrators from performing their duties in the investigation process.

While the state education department was alerted to the allegations against O’Nan in August 2016, the investigation was closed “as there was no supporting evidence submitted to the SCDE at that time,” the board wrote Tuesday in its reprimand of O’Nan.

“On Jan. 8, 2019, the SCDE learned that evidence exists that may support the allegations. In answer to a second subpoena, the District also provided evidence that was not made available to the SCDE during the 2016 investigation,” according to Tuesday’s reprimand.

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 sheriff’s office investigators that he had an affair with O’Nan and had had sex with her inside the high school while on duty.

When asked about Holmes’ admission in early January, O’Nan declined to comment.

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.