State

Former SC teacher accused of dating 17-year-old surrenders teaching certificate

Sandra Walsh, former fifth-grade teacher for Beaufort County School District
Sandra Walsh, former fifth-grade teacher for Beaufort County School District

A former Beaufort County School District teacher voluntarily surrendered her teaching certificate to the S.C. Department of Education earlier this month after accusations of an inappropriate relationship with a district student surfaced last summer, according to a disciplinary action report filed by the agency.

Sandra Walsh, a former fifth-grade teacher at Hilton Head Island School for the Creative Arts, allegedly engaged in an “inappropriate, intimate relationship with a 17-year-old student of a local high school,” though no charges were brought against her, according to a Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office police report filed July 14, 2016.

Walsh, who was 39 at time, denied the relationship was sexual in a police interview last summer. Facing a S.C. Board of Education hearing earlier this spring that would have determined if her teaching certificate should be revoked, Walsh — whose background also includes a stint as a reporter with The Beaufort Gazette — waived her right to the hearing and surrendered her South Carolina educator certificate on April 11.

She did not return two emails or respond to a Facebook message for comment. A local cellphone number known at one time to be Walsh’s is no longer in service.

The boy’s aunt told police that Walsh’s relationship with the student began sometime in April 2016. She observed Walsh and her nephew spooning on a couch at that time, she said in the report.

Police observed the student staying at Walsh’s home from July 9 through July 11, 2016. Walsh confirmed that the boy spent the weekend at her place, according to the report.

The student initially told investigators his relationship with Walsh was not intimate, but over the course of the interview with police, he admitted the relationship became sexual after he turned 17. He also told his father, who later told police, that he was “in love with Sandra Walsh and wanted to marry her and they had been making plans to go on vacation together,” the report said.

The boy bought a burner phone to try to contact Walsh after police interviewed both of them. He also visited her residence, but Walsh turned him away after instructed by her lawyer to not have contact with the boy anymore, according to the police report.

Walsh resigned from Beaufort County School District on July 14, the report said.

The district verbally notified the S.C. Dept of Education of the accusation against Walsh on the same day of her resignation and in writing a few days later, district spokesman Jim Foster said.

Alice Walton, the district’s chief human resources officer, told police Walsh was never the boy’s teacher.

The boy’s father did not want to pursue charges, according to the report. He only asked for Walsh to “stay away from him and his family.”

The case is closed, Capt. Bob Bromage of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office said Friday.

“There is no additional investigative activity on this case since the family declined to pursue charges,” he added.

The Solicitor’s Office, which advised the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office on the case, determined no charges could be filed because South Carolina law says the age of consent is 16, said deputy solicitor Sean Thornton of the Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor’s Office.

The charge of sexual battery with a student also did not apply in this case because the student was not enrolled at Walsh’s school, he said.

Walsh’s attorney said in the police report that Walsh had moved out of the state and was “moving on with her life.”

Kelly Meyerhofer: 843-706-8136, @KellyMeyerhofer

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