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Hamilton County first grade teacher indicted on multiple sexual abuse charges involving students

Handcuffs. (Andrei Calangiu/Dreamstime/TNS)

A first grade teacher at Wallace A. Smith Elementary School in Ooltewah has been indicted on sexual abuse charges against multiple minors.

The teacher, Duane Sanders, has been taken into custody by the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office and is awaiting booking, according to a news release.

Last week, school officials met with District Attorney General Coty Wamp, who revealed there was probable cause to believe Sanders had sexually abused multiple first grade students, a news release stated.

Police were notified of an allegation of inappropriate behavior on March 3, and Hamilton County Schools officials said they were notified two weeks ago of a Department of Children’s Services investigation into Sanders, a news release stated.

Sanders was suspended without pay pending the outcome of the investigation.

A Hamilton County grand jury handed down a multiple-count indictment for Sanders on Monday, according to a news release.

Police officials in the news release said the indictment will remain under seal. The investigation remains ongoing and more victims may be identified.

“We are heartbroken at the thought that any school system employee would harm a child,” school officials said.

According to an archived page on the district’s website, Sanders was recognized as an “HCS Hero” in April 2021. The page, which has been removed, states that Sanders had been part of Hamilton County Schools since 2009, when he began as a substitute teacher. In 2014, he became an educational assistant and then a certified teacher in 2017.

A parent was quoted on the page saying Sanders led the school’s safety patrol at the time and hosted after-school reading programs for students.

Sanders was also quoted.

“I have supported changes during COVID-19 by finding ways for students to work together in groups and still do the fun things like reader’s theater, games, and planting and growing plants,” Sanders said. “We have had to be creative to try to catch kids up on lost learning.”

The district is offering counseling and support services to any family or student in the district who may need it.

School officials said they will continue to work with law enforcement to identify any other potential victims of abuse.

If anyone has information or if they know of a child who may have been a victim, please contact the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office at 423-622-0022 or the Department of Children’s Services at 877-237-0004.


(c) 2023 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press

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