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A La Grange woman who previously worked as a special needs teacher for Oldham County Schools is now charged with sexual abuse and distributing obscene photos to students in a neighboring school district.
Shannon Hirchert, a special needs teacher at Martha Layne Collins High School in Shelbyville, was arrested and charged Aug. 3 with six counts first-degree sexual abuse and two counts of distributing obscene matter to minors dating back to fall 2010.
Hirchert, 42, of La Grange, was released the same day on a $5,000 bond.
Shelby County Sheriff's Detective Jason Rice said investigators believe the sexual conduct was consensual, but it falls under KRS statute 510.110, the charge of sexual abuse first degree when a person is in a position of authority or special trust, which includes teachers.
Each of the six charges, Rice said, occurred in Shelby County, including private property and one incident inside Collins High School.
The two charges of distribution of obscene matter to minors were photos sent from phone to phone, Rice added.
The sex abuse charges are class D felonies, carrying penalties of one to five years in prison. Distribution of obscene matter to minors has a penalty of up to one year in a local jail.
A first-year teacher at Collins, Hirchert accepted a job in the Shelby County school district in 2010 after working for Oldham County Schools. Police said in Shelby County, Hirchert was not involved with any extra-curricular activities or clubs.
The two students listed as the alleged victims in the case were not enrolled in her class, but at least one may have worked as a classroom aide.
Events leading up to Hirchert's arrest began a day earlier when a teacher overheard a conversation at Martha Layne Collins High School.
During a press conference Aug. 4, Shelby Superintendent James Neihof said the teacher questioned the parties involved and notified Principal Anthony Hatchell, who notified the superintendent.
Neihof said he launched an "aggressive investigation," which led to working with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and detectives with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.
Neihof noted that no action has been taken by the school district as the charges are not conclusive of guilt.
Hirchert is now on paid administrative leave during the investigation.
The first day of school for Shelby County students is Aug. 17.
Neihof said Hirchert passed the same "strict criminal background checks and reference checks" that all SCPS employees face. "I am cooperating with law enforcement to expedite the process, preserve the integrity of the school district and continue the safe environment for students," he said. "I have also notified officials with the Educational Professional Standards Board."
Rice said the case is still under investigation but noted that deputies have not been working with Oldham County Schools.
"We don't have any reason to believe that anything happened outside of our jurisdiction," he said.
Story by Todd Martin, The Sentinel News, a sister paper of The Oldham Era. Both companies are owned by Landmark Community Newspapers Inc. E-mail us about this story at: firstname.lastname@example.org.