Atlanta Public Schools ignored and failed to investigate sexual assault claims against a paraprofessional accused of sexually assaulting a teenage boy when they decided to keep him on staff at a middle school, a federal lawsuit filed this week alleges.
The lawsuit says school officials were first informed of an alleged sexual assault by Sanchez Waller, a paraprofessional who worked at Bunche Middle School in Southwest Atlanta, months before he was eventually arrested.
Atlanta Public Schools police didn’t arrest Waller until May 2018, on charges of child molestation and enticing a child for indecent purposes in a separate incident involving a 13-year-old boy, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported. A redacted incident report revealed Waller had allegedly sexually assaulted a male student at least six times that year.
Waller was fired from the district May 14, 2018. His case is pending in Fulton County Superior Court.
“Atlanta Public Schools (APS) is aware of allegations of misconduct and of the subsequent criminal charges lodged against Sanchez Waller, a former paraprofessional at Ralph J. Bunche Middle School,” APS spokesman Ian Smith said in an emailed statement. “APS remains committed to providing a safe environment and protecting the welfare of its students, and intends to cooperate fully with law enforcement. While APS does not comment on pending litigation, it disputes that this matter has been handled improperly.”
Filed Monday in the Northern District of Georgia, the lawsuit details several allegations against the district, Waller, former Bunche Middle School principal Mario Watkins and Associate Superintendent Tommy Usher. Superintendent Meria Carstarphen was also named in the lawsuit. The AJC’s policy is not to name sexual assault victims in stories.
The lawsuit says APS knew of sexual assault claims against Waller in 2017. According to the lawsuit, Usher approved Waller’s return to the classroom on Sept. 27, 2017, the same day a complaint was filed alleging Waller punched and grabbed a male student’s genitalia in Bunche Middle School.
Under Georgia law, Usher should have reported the sexual assault, according to the APS Board Policy manual.
Waller should have received immediate disciplinary action from the school system, including being put on administrative leave until a thorough investigation was complete, the lawsuit contends.
Swift disciplinary action likely would have prevented the attacks on his client, attorney Bradley W. Pratt said.
Instead, the district allowed Waller to remain on staff, leading to other sexual assaults with Pratt’s client on several different occasions during the second semester of the 2017-2018 school year, according to the lawsuit.
“This has been very difficult for both the child and parents,” Pratt said. “We trust our school system to take care of our children. It’s terrifying to think that someone who is a school employee that’s supposed to protect our kids is a predator.”
Waller lured the child to the fitness room and molested him on several occasions, according to the lawsuit. It also says Waller then encouraged the victim’s classmates to threaten the boy, and some went as far as threatening to shoot up the boy’s home.
The threats also forced the child into therapy and he did not attend classes for the final three weeks of school, according to the lawsuit. The victim and his parents have since left the state.
They are seeking a trial jury and unspecified damages.
“The problem here is indifference to a really dangerous situation,” Pratt said. “If these issues had been addressed earlier then our clients’ child wouldn’t have been a victim.”
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