Education

School district: No evidence of wrongdoing by Hilton Head High School principal

Amanda O’Nan
Amanda O’Nan Staff file

The Beaufort County School District said Monday it could find no evidence of wrongdoing by Hilton Head High School principal Amanda O’Nan.

District spokesman Jim Foster said the district’s investigation was done “long before” Sunday’s reporting of the claims in a sheriff’s office investigative report, but he would not answer questions about the complaints it had received, when it received them or any specifics about the investigation or how it was conducted.

“I can tell you we investigated the allegations and found no evidence of any inappropriate activity,” Foster said when asked what the district had done — or planned to do — about claims made by O’Nan’s husband that his wife used the high school to facilitate an adulterous relationship.

The school district’s human resources division handled the investigation, but Foster said he would release no other details because the district feared disclosure could impede future investigations. The district protects the privacy of its employees, he said, and doesn’t involve itself in their private lives unless there is an issue that interferes with job performance.

The district’s refusal to say more leaves open several questions, including whether it would have the ability to tell when and if a principal were in a building after hours, how much leeway it gives a principal to decide who uses a building and when, and how thoroughly it attempted to investigate the claims, such as interviewing witnesses or the complainant.

In May, Foster told a reporter that the schools have video cameras that record activity. But the recordings are automatically purged once the cameras’ memories fill up.

The issue arose after an internal investigation into misconduct claims against a Beaufort County sheriff’s deputy included allegations that the deputy was having an affair with Amanda O’Nan and would meet on multiple occasions late at night with her inside Hilton Head Island High School. The claims were made by O’Nan’s husband, Chris. Kimberly Smith, attorney for Amanda O’Nan, has said the claims “remain unfounded and are based on slanderous and malicious acts and accusations of a scorned husband.”

In one complaint, Chris O’Nan told sheriff’s investigators that his wife would receive a text message in the middle of the night and get up and leave, claiming a problem at the school. Amanda O’Nan “was seen meeting (Beaufort County Sheriff’s Deputy Staff Sgt. DeJuan Holmes) at the school and taking him into her office after midnight, where they would stay for over an hour at a time,” according to allegations in the report.

The report quotes Chris O’Nan as saying he discussed his wife’s relationship with Holmes as far back as October 2015 and that she told him he was a deputy assisting her with issues at the school. Holmes began working as an investigator for the Sheriff’s Office in 2002. He most recently had been handling drug, gang and other vice-type cases, but never served as a school resource officer, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

A second complaint was filed against Holmes by Karen Anderson, described in the investigative documents as a long-time friend of Chris O’Nan’s. Anderson claims Holmes ran a license plate check on her without cause. She told investigators Chris O’Nan once asked her to go to Holmes’ house to look for Amanda O’Nan’s car and as she neared the house, Holmes drove up and briefly followed her. Anderson says she was later told by teachers at the school that Amanda O’Nan told them she was in Holmes’ work vehicle at the time and listened to him run a check on her license plate over the police radio.

On April 29, Holmes was confronted with the allegations and immediately resigned. Attempts to reach Holmes have been unsuccessful.

Today, on the first day of school, some school board members said they couldn’t say much about the controversy surrounding the principal. One member said the issue would likely be a topic of discussion during a closed-door, executive-session-portion of Tuesday’s board meeting. Meanwhile, another member wants to learn more about the district’s investigation, and the evidence it reviewed.

The newspapers do not normally write about family court cases, but this case is unusual in that allegations are being made against two public employees in unique positions of community trust. The allegations include claims that both abused their positions of trust, and used public equipment and a public school building while doing so.

Because Holmes resigned, the Sheriff’s Office did not investigate further. Sheriff P.J. Tanner says this is typical when complaints are of a policy nature and not of a criminal nature. The investigative documents became part of a legal fight when a then-anonymous third party tried to block release of the police report. At first, a judge ruled the document public but ordered O’Nan’s name and the identity of the school redacted. The newspapers fought that ruling and the judge reversed his ruling, making the entire document public. The third party was revealed to be Amanda O’Nan.

School board member JoAnn Orischak, whose district includes Hilton Head High School, declined to comment on whether she was previously aware of the allegations against the principal and said the matter fell under the purview of Superintendent Jeff Moss.

“It is the superintendent’s responsibility to ensure that codes of conduct are adhered to here, in regard to administrative regulations,” Orischak said. “However the superintendent approaches this, I’m hoping he’d share that with the board members. And in this particular instance, one of our facilities was cited, so he’d need to speak to that as well.”

Orischak said she wanted to make sure Moss had investigated the matter “fully” and was holding all employees to the same standard.

When asked if she had reason to believe the matter had not been investigated fully, she said she did not. “But given the high-profile nature of this story, I believe board members can ask a few more questions.”

Orischak said she plans to ask about “the specifics of the investigation,” the evidence that was reviewed and “administrative rules that might have been breached.”

Board member David Striebinger said the board would likely talk about the allegations during Tuesday’s meeting.

“I can tell you that the board probably doesn’t know anymore than you published,” Striebinger said Monday morning. “But we’ll probably discuss this in (executive session) in tomorrow’s meeting. We’ll know a heck of a lot more, I suspect, after tomorrow.”

Wade Livingston: 843-706-8153, @WadeGLivingston

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