Education

Beaufort Co. principal transferred for ‘inappropriate relationship,’ school sources say

Jerry Henderson
Jerry Henderson

A Beaufort County principal quietly removed from his position in November without explanation was reassigned because of an “inappropriate relationship with a subordinate,” The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette have now learned.

Jerry Henderson, then the principal at H.E. McCracken Middle School, was abruptly removed from his role in November and reassigned to the district’s STEM coordinator position. No reason was given for the move at the time, but three sources privy to the district’s decision-making confirmed it was an “inappropriate relationship” with someone at the school. After this article was published online late Thursday, the district issued a statement saying that Henderson was not transferred due to a sexual relationship.

Henderson was not put on administrative leave and was allowed to keep his full salary of $94,169 in his new role, even though the person previously in that position was paid $30,000 less, according to a district database. As STEM coordinator, Henderson works with teachers in the district’s nine STEM-certified schools to research best practices and create lesson plans, according to district spokesman Jim Foster.

The new details raise questions about how the school district handles allegations of misbehavior, applies discipline and whether the district has an obligation to be transparent with the public when one of its community leaders is involved.

Those questions are particularly relevant as the district’s investigation into allegations against Hilton Head Island High School principal Amanda O’Nan drags into its fourth week without resolution. On Jan. 8, O’Nan was placed on administrative leave and a 2016 investigation into allegations that she had sex with a Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputy on school grounds was reopened. She continues to collect her $106,271 annual salary while on leave.

Henderson did not return a phone message or email asking for comment. It is not known whether he denied or admitted to the allegations. The district’s administrative rules do not restrict relationships between employees or between an administrator and a subordinate.

O’Nan recently declined comment to the newspaper after it reported that former deputy DeJuan Holmes had admitted 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. When the allegations first arose in 2016, O’Nan publicly denied the allegations.

Two high-profile members of the education community immediately took to Facebook to question the district’s responses after the newspapers’ articles about Holmes’ admission.

In a Jan. 8 Facebook posting, Bridgette Frazier, a Hilton Head Island Middle School teacher who unsuccessfully ran for the school board in 2016, wrote, “I don’t want to and cannot ignore the difference in treatment of some in this district over others.” At the time, Frazier seemed to believe Henderson was being held to a higher standard.

The next day she posted: “I need the same energy that came from the district in regards to Henderson to be extended here as well. We all may respect our leaders and be fond of their administrative diligence and ability to manage a school effectively, but any violation in ethics to this extent must have a universal consequence.”

Frazier did not return messages seeking comment on her concerns.

Also expressing concern was Amanda Walrad, a co-founder of the student advocacy group STAND, although Walrad took the stance that it was O’Nan who was being treated more harshly than Henderson.

“Wonder if McCracken Principal is being investigated????” Walrad wrote. Reached later by a reporter, Walrad declined to speak further on her thoughts about how O’Nan is being treated.

District spokesman Foster declined to say whether the district conducted an investigation into Henderson and whether the alleged “inappropriate relationship” was the reason for his transfer to the district office. When asked why he provided information about O’Nan’s case and not Henderson’s, Foster said each personnel matter is handled “individually based on the circumstances.”

The cases

A closer look at what is known about the Jerry Henderson and Amanda O’Nan cases and other ways they compare:

  • Henderson was never placed on administrative leave, but O’Nan was. They both kept their full pay.

  • The school district reported the allegations regarding O’Nan to the State Department of Education but would not comment on whether they communicated with the state about Henderson.
  • O’Nan’s case became publicly known because of a complaint made to the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office against the deputy. Allegations against Henderson have never before been made public.
  • O’Nan was accused of using school grounds to have an affair. It is unclear where Henderson’s accused misconduct took place.
  • It is unknown what evidence the district has in the cases or whether it believes the principals were honest about their situations.
  • Both of their futures are unknown. All administrators operate on one-year contracts that end at the end of the school year. O’Nan remains in limbo, and even if the district has determined Henderson’s behavior did not warrant termination, it is under no obligation to rehire him.
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