Substitute teacher’s mental disability claim raises questions about background checks

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Fairfield substitute teacher Tracey Abraham appeared in Fairfield Municipal Court for public indecency charge.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

State officials involved with processing applicants for substitute teaching licenses said they have no way of knowing whether job candidates suffer from mental illness or disabilities unless they spent time in a mental facility or were declared incompetent.

While candidates for substitute teaching jobs in Ohio are subjected to criminal and education background checks by the FBI, Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Ohio Department of Education, some of those do not ask applicants about or review their mental health history, citing legal restrictions.

A spotlight shined last week on mental competency procedures after an attorney for a Butler County sub, who police said admitted he “fondled himself” in class, claimed he suffered from “mental disabilities.”

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The attorney for Tracey Abraham – who the Journal-News first reported has a long history of working in numerous Butler and Warren County schools – said Abraham’s admission to police should not be submitted as part of his trial, according to filing in Fairfield Municipal Court.

David O’Neil, spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General’s office – which includes the BCI – said part of that office’s background checks beyond previous criminal records includes reviewing a national database.

“The background check includes a check against a national mental incompetency database. To be placed on that database someone would have to be involuntarily checked in to a mental health facility or declared mentally incompetent by the court,” said O’Neil.


Todd Lindgren, spokesman for the Cincinnati office of the FBI, said his federal agency is limited to making only criminal background checks on substitute teacher applicants.

And Tom Isaacs, superintendent of the Warren County Educational Services Center, which handles substitute hiring and scheduling for both Warren and Butler counties, said his organization cannot inquire about the mental health of applicants.

ExploreMORE: Accused Fairfield Schools substitute had extensive history of working for area schools

All applicants through the WCESC must undergo criminal background checks by the FBI and Ohio BCI. The Ohio Department of Education also conducts reviews of candidates’ educational qualifications for substitute teachers.

“We don’t believe this is legal to ask a job candidate about disabilities,” Isaacs said. “We have never had any compliant about any sub that is anywhere near this severe. This sub never had a single complaint, and he was frequently used by school districts that had good experiences with him.”

Among the area school districts to have hired Tracey in past years is Lakota Schools. Betsy Fuller, spokesperson for Lakota, said substitute teachers are closely monitored as to their job performances.

“School districts in our region share similar hiring practices and have safeguards in place, such as the types of employee background checks required,” Fuller said.

“Lakota’s human resources department works closely with the Educational Services Center (ESC) to provide feedback on the substitutes they provide. This is both to improve the abilities of substitutes and to provide information to the ESC when we are aware of any issues.”

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