Education

Beaufort Co. superintendent planned to fire O’Nan over her ‘dishonesty,’ scathing email shows

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.

The Beaufort County School District planned to fire former principal Amanda O’Nan, citing her conduct and “dishonesty” and describing her as unfit for any educator role, according to a newly released email sent to O’Nan by the district’s interim superintendent.

O’Nan has been accused of abusing her position as Hilton Head Island High School principal to carry on an affair with a former Beaufort County Sheriff’s deputy. In the email, Herb Berg tells O’Nan that emails and cellphone and electronic door key records at the high school “strongly suggest you met the deputy multiple times at HHHS after hours, at times ranging between midnight and 4:00 a.m.”

The email was included in O’Nan’s personnel file, which The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette obtained Wednesday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The findings are important because they provide the public its first look at the district’s thinking and thoroughness of its investigation when it removed the popular leader from her school.

“I have lost trust and confidence in your ability to be an effective educator in any capacity in this District,” Herb Berg wrote in the March 20 email, saying that O’Nan’s behavior has “directly impaired” her ability to lead students or teachers.

O’Nan resigned May 6, nearly four months after being placed on paid administrative leave during separate district and state investigations into the allegations.

The state’s investigation ended March 12 with a public reprimand of O’Nan, the board’s lowest form of punishment. In the state’s written order, O’Nan acknowledged the “serious nature of her lapse of judgment.”

O’Nan announced her resignation in a Facebook post May 7, saying she was taking the “high road,” but calling out Berg, Alice Walton, the district’s human resources director, and an unnamed school board member, telling them she hopes they “enjoy” their glass houses.

That same day she gave a tearful interview to a local TV station, saying she decided to stop fighting the district because of her children.

Earlier Wednesday, the Packet and the Gazette revealed that O’Nan resigned only after reaching a settlement with the district in which she will receive more than $50,000 in exchange for agreeing not to sue over any issue pertaining to her employment or her departure, according to documents in her personnel file.

In the March 20 email, Berg lays out the findings from the district’s Jan. 25 investigative report into the allegations that O’Nan had conducted an extramarital sexual relationship with an on-duty Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputy on school grounds.

The accusation was made by O’Nan’s husband at the time, who filed a complaint with the Sheriff’s Office on April 27, 2016.

Amanda O’Nan initially and repeatedly denied publicly that she had anything but a professional relationship with DeJuan Holmes, who resigned when the Sheriff’s Office confronted him with the complaint rather than submit to an internal affairs investigation.

At the time, the district, then led by superintendent Jeff Moss, said it had investigated the claims and found no evidence to support them.

The accusations resurfaced in January of this year, however, when The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette reported that Holmes had admitted to the Sheriff’s Office over the summer that he had indeed had sex with O’Nan in the high school. Holmes agreed to speak with Sheriff’s Office investigators as a first step in possibly reapplying for his position.

While she did admit to the state board that she had “placed herself in a sensitive position by meeting an individual for reasons unrelated to School business on School grounds after hours,” O’Nan has continued to strongly deny that she and Holmes ever had sex there.

After Holmes’ admission to the Sheriff’s Office was revealed, the district reversed course, changing its story about the 2016 investigation, saying that Moss had broken protocol and waved off the district’s human resources director and school’s director of security, who would typically conduct an investigation into misconduct allegations, saying that he’d handle the matter himself.

Moss denies doing this.

However, evidence that was available in 2016, such as the emails and phone records, was never gathered by Moss, according to the district.

The state board also pointed an accusing finger at the district in its March 12 order, noting that when it previously reviewed the allegations against O’Nan in 2016, it had not been given the evidence that was presented this time around.

In his March email to O’Nan, Berg notes that between Aug. 25, 2015, and April 23, 2016, “phone records show 94 calls made during school hours between yourself and the deputy.”

As previously reported in the Packet and the Gazette, O’Nan and Holmes had also exchanged hundreds of messages using their work accounts between September 2015 and April 2016.

The emails appeared to be flirtatious in nature and used as a method to communicate away from the eyes of their spouses.

Among the other findings Berg included in his email are:

• A 3 a.m. Dec. 2, 2015, call from O’Nan’s district-issued cellphone to the deputy’s number. “At 3:20 a.m. a key was used to enter HHHS”;

• At 1:14 a.m. Dec. 19, 2015, someone used a key to enter HHHS. “A phone call was then made at 3:25 a.m. from your number to the deputy’s number that lasted 2 minutes”;

• At 2:32 a.m. Dec. 27, 2015, “a call was made from your number to the deputy’s number.” At 2:49 a.m., a key was used to enter the high school;

• At 3 a.m. Jan. 17, 2016, a call was made from O’Nan’s phone number to the deputy’s number and 16 minutes later a key was used to enter the school.

The Jan. 17 call came after O’Nan and Holmes had exchanged numerous emails over their work accounts, Berg wrote.

“Those conversations appeared to focus on your meeting up with the deputy later in the evening,” he wrote, noting a reference to Holmes “sneaking out late” and O’Nan asking Holmes “Want me to call you at 3 and hang up?”

O’Nan’s and Holmes’ communications using work accounts and phones “suggest a complete lack of professionalism and neglect of your duties,” Berg wrote to O’Nan.

“In my opinion, your conduct, including conduct that occurred at the school,” Berg wrote, “has directly impaired your ability to effectively address student and employee misconduct, which are two primary responsibilities you have as an administrator.”

O’Nan’s settlement with the district notes that the agreement is in no way to be considered an acknowledgment of “wrongdoing.”

Since March, she and her attorney, Ed Kubec, have also maintained that while O’Nan denied any relationship with Holmes publicly, she told the district the truth in 2016.

The district’s Jan. 25 investigative report, conducted by the district’s protective services officer David Grissom, does not note any confession from O’Nan.

All told, Grissom found that 338 calls had been made between O’Nan’s district-issued phone and the personal cell phone of Holmes, 165 outgoing calls from O’Nan to Holmes and 173 incoming calls from Holmes to O’Nan, the report said.

Grissom noted that neither Holmes nor O’Nan’s ex-husband wanted to make any further statements about the matter.

“Mr. O’Nan did say that his private investigator had photos of Amanda O’Nan and Mr. Holmes while the two were at Hilton Head Island HIgh School,” Grissom wrote.

The private investigator, who is unnamed in the report, declined to provide Grissom with photos, the report said.

Grissom stated in the report that he had reviewed O’Nan’s activity accessing the school.

During the 2014-15 school year, he wrote, “O’Nan used her access badge on a regular basis.” The next year “her access badge was used frequently until Dec. 3, 2015.”

“There is no activity on her access badge from Dec. 3, 2015 until Feb. 17, 2016, when her badge was automatically disabled due to lack of use.”

Grissom wrote that O’Nan then attempted to use her badge April 21, 2016, and did not try to use it again after that.

A staff member in the district’s technology department asked O’Nan why she had not been using her badge and “she replied that she didn’t want people to know where she was,” according to Grissom’s report.

Grissom’s investigation then turned to key-use at the high school’s front door.

He examined the six-month period between September 2015 and February 2016 and found at least 10 instances of the front door being opened by an unknown person and the alarm being disabled between midnight and 4:27 a.m., the report said.

Grissom cross-referenced the times with emails and calls between O’Nan and Holmes.

After her resignation announcement May 7 and in response to a request for comment from the Packet and the Gazette, O’Nan’s attorney issued a statement later that evening in a text message, saying, in part: “Amanda is one of the most courageous persons I’ve ever met, and her resignation is a loss to the entire community.”

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