Editorials

Beaufort County School District gets it right in the principal sex-in-the-school case

Hilton Head students rallied to support Principal O’Nan. Here’s what they had to say

Hilton Head High School students held a rally on Thursday, Jan. 10, to support their principal Amanda O'Nan after she was placed on paid administrative leave while the district investigates a claim that she and a former deputy had sex in the school.
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Hilton Head High School students held a rally on Thursday, Jan. 10, to support their principal Amanda O'Nan after she was placed on paid administrative leave while the district investigates a claim that she and a former deputy had sex in the school.

The Amanda O’Nan saga has finally come to an end, three years after the popular Hilton Head Island High School principal was first accused of abusing her position by carrying out an adulterous affair in the school after hours.

We have criticized the school district long and hard for the better part of the past five years, mainly because of the absurd dysfunction and immature pettiness of the previous school board and the untrustworthy leadership of its former superintendent, Jeff Moss.

That criticism was deserved. Today, so too is commendation.

O’Nan was both immensely popular and successful at her job. There were many who would argue — who did argue — that it didn’t matter what she did in her private life. The only things that mattered were that she was a terrific principal, that she had a positive impact on many young lives, and that the school was flourishing. Maybe that was what Moss was thinking when he waved away the allegations when they first came to light.

But after the paper reported in January that O’Nan’s alleged lover, former Sheriff’s deputy DeJuan Holmes, had later admitted the allegations were true, interim superintendent Herb Berg acted quickly, removing O’Nan from the school.

It is true the wheels turned too slowly from there. The district first punted to the state board, perhaps hoping it would end it by suspending or revoking O’Nan’s license, but it essentially deferred right back to the local district by offering only a slap-on-the-wrist reprimand. At this point, Berg could have taken the easy way out. He could have used the state’s inaction as cover. He could have capitulated to those who sought her reinstatement. He could have looked at O’Nan’s legal team and said it’s not worth the possible fight.

But he didn’t. Instead he sent a message that was both logical and just.

We expect more of our leaders. The bar for our principals is high. We owe our children leaders who make good decisions and who do not lie. Our community, our world, has become accustomed to making justifications that sweep away bad behavior in the name of a greater good.

Berg’s stance on O’Nan is a needed reset.

He stood up and stated the obvious: O’Nan had lost the credibility needed to lead the school. Just as Moss before her had lost the credibility needed to lead the district.

We can quibble with the settlement that basically pays O’Nan to go away quietly. We can quibble with Berg’s silence when the school’s parents were the most upset. And we can quibble with how long this all took.

In the end, though, he not only got it right, but he made his decision, the settlement and the findings of the district’s investigation public. The community deserved that. Given O’Nan’s public protestations, the transparency served the district’s interests. We can only hope the district will take the same approach when its interest isn’t as clear.

For now, though, we have hope that this signals a significant turn for the district. One that will be carried on when a permanent superintendent is in place.

We should all continue to expect more.

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