Recent arrest highlights scrutiny placed on substitute teachers

Tracey Abraham appeared in Fairfield Municipal Court Tuesday, Jan. 15 charged with public indecency after he allegedly fondled himself while he was a substitute teacher at Fairfield s Creekside Middle School with students in the classroom. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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Tracey Abraham appeared in Fairfield Municipal Court Tuesday, Jan. 15 charged with public indecency after he allegedly fondled himself while he was a substitute teacher at Fairfield s Creekside Middle School with students in the classroom. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Substitute teachers like the man arrested earlier this month for allegedly performing a sex act on himself in a middle school classroom face several levels of scrutiny before they’re allowed in front of students, local officials said.

Tracey Abraham was arrested on Jan. 8 and accused by Fairfield police of “fondling himself” while at the desk in front of a class of at Creekside Middle School. He was a veteran substitute instructor in dozens of Butler and Warren county schools in recent years.

A review of his personnel file by the Journal-News showed that Abraham, who appeared in court last week and received a pretrial hearing date on a charge of public indecency, taught in dozens of school buildings around Butler and Warren counties.

Explore MORE: Fairfield substitute teacher arrested, accused of sex act in class

Area substitute teacher hiring and scheduling is handled by both the Butler and Warren county educational services centers, said Tom Isaacs, superintendent of the Warren County Educational Services Center. Teachers face several levels of checks before they’re added to the available roster, and they’re also in high demand, Isaacs said.

"Ohio requires all substitutes to be licensed by the Ohio Department of Education , and there has been a severe shortage that has been a real challenge for school districts," said Isaacs.

Though recent years have seen a loosening of requirements for those who want to work as substitute teachers, there has also been a corresponding tightening of criminal background checks to ensure those working with children are law-abiding citizens.

Abraham passed Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Federal Bureau of Investigation background checks when he was hired in 2012, officials told the Journal-News. He went through another background check in 2017, they said.

The easiest path to substitute work is to be a current or former full-time teacher. Undergraduate degrees are often preferred but not always required.

Training is involved. But increasingly the substitute employment pool is populated by professionals or veterans from non-educational industries. Those with specialized skills in mathematics, science, computer science may find themselves in much demand.

Explore MORE: Accused substitute teacher worked throughout the region, records reveal

Local school districts control the hiring process, said Isaacs.

“Each school district has control over all aspects of the substitutes they use from the pool of candidates that we create. The school districts decide which substitutes work in their schools and also how much they pay,” he said.

The local educational service centers confirm with the sub has up-to-date licenses, background checks and training for things like blood borne pathogens, safety procedures, and their requirements as mandatory reporters of child abuse, Isaacs said.

“Warren and Butler County ESC’s have worked together to manage substitute teachers for the past six years. We handle all the employment/personnel issues in recruiting and hiring the subs, we provide an online platform that allows school districts to post openings and substitutes to choose their assignments, and we handle the payroll as well,” he said.

“There are several benefits, as the school districts are usually competing for the same group of substitutes, and this allows those who want to work as substitutes to have a ‘one stop’ approach rather than going to each individual school district,” which number 20 school districts in the two counties.

School district officials in the two counties say without these subs, area schools couldn’t function.

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Explore MORE: Pre-trail set for Fairfield teacher accused of in-class sex act

If the charges against Abraham are true, said veteran substitute teacher Joshua Clifford, “it tarnishes what we do and it hurts everybody involved.”

“Most of the people who do substitute teaching want to help kids and you get a chance to work with some awesome teachers,” said Clifford, who is also a pastor of a Franklin church.

Linda Corbett is a 60-year-old, former hairdresser who enjoys supplementing her income by subbing.

For Corbett the freedom of controlling her work schedule is a big plus of the job.

“The pros include you get to choose what days you work, at which school districts and at which school buildings,” said Corbett.

“I love being with kids. I’ve sub for kindergarten through 12th grade classes and I don’t have a favorite,” she said. “I really enjoy walking into a classroom and not really knowing what is coming at me that day.”

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