Substitute teacher suspended over questions about criminal record

May 26, 2004|HERB BROCK

A substitute teacher in the Danville and Garrard County school districts has lost his job after officials learned of an Orlando television station's investigation revealing a criminal record in Florida.

The substitute, known to Danville and Garrard school officials as Tommy Bennett but who, according to WFTV Channel 9 in Orlando, also goes by Tom Brad Bennett and Dr. Brad Bennett, was suspended about three weeks ago "pending further investigation" by Danville Superintendent Bob Rowland. Garrard Superintendent Ray Woolsey said Bennett's substitute teaching contract with that district has not been renewed.

Bennett, who had been living in Lancaster, reportedly has returned to Florida.

An Internet report Tuesday by WFTV said an investigation by the station revealed that Bennett has a criminal record that includes stalking, extortion and witness tampering.

Bennett was fired a few months ago from a teaching position in the Seminole County school district in Orlando after WFTV "exposed his criminal record," the report said. Bennett then left Florida and landed the substitute teaching positions in Kentucky this spring.


Background check had been done

Rowland said today that he had followed state law and state Department of Education certification standards and conducted a background check on Bennett, like he does on all teacher and substitute teacher applicants. The check involved contacting references, the Department of Education to see if he had a valid teaching certificate in Kentucky, and the Kentucky State Police and FBI to see if he had a criminal record.

"Our check showed that, according to the Education Department, he had a valid teaching certificate in Kentucky and that, according to the state police and FBI, he had no criminal record, and nothing negative came from his references," said Rowland. "The criminal record check turns up any convictions and, from what I received from the state police and FBI, there were none."

But Rowland said a reporter from WFTV dropped by his office about a month ago and told him of the results of the station's investigation. Rowland said he then called the Office of Certification in the Department of Education and state police and "still nothing came up regarding these allegations."

Lisa Gross, spokesperson for the Department of Education, today confirmed the process outlined by Rowland was the "proper way to go" in checking on teacher and teacher substitute applicants.

She said the department leaves "all the background checking" to superintendents. "That part of the process is between the superintendent and state police and other law enforcement agencies," she said.

However, she did say that Bennett had applied for and received a Kentucky teaching certificate. "He obviously must have met our academic and experience requirements," she said.

Rowland said he then called school officials in Seminole County and, based on conversations with them and the "concerns raised" by the WFTV investigation, decided to suspend Bennett.

"He has been suspended pending further investigation," said Rowland. "So far, our investigation has produced nothing, at least nothing negative that has occurred in our district or in Kentucky, but because the air surrounding this situation is so foggy, I decided it would be best to suspend Mr. Bennett, at least for the time being."

No incidents reported at DHS, Bate

Bennett had performed substitute teaching assignments for several days this spring at Danville High School and Bate Middle School, and there were "absolutely no incidents involving him or concerns voiced by teachers, principals or students," Rowland said.

Danville Principal Angela Johnson said today that Bennett had taught about 10 days at the high school.

"He substitute taught a variety of classes, including English and humanities," she said. "There was never an incident. "When our paths crossed, in the office or in the hallways, he was always very quiet but also very polite.

"The only thing that he may have done differently from most teachers is that he always ate lunch with the students," said Johnson. "But I have been at a high school where it was required that teachers eat with students, so I didn't think that much about it. Besides, some teachers like to get to know their students better than they can in the classroom."

Johnson said the last time Bennett taught at the high school was at the end of March, right before spring break.

Bate Principal Paige Stevens declined today to comment, referring questions to Rowland.

He taught one day at Garrard

Bennett also taught an English class for a single day about two months ago at Garrard County High School, Superintendent Ray Woolsey said this morning.

"The day he was teaching for us we were informed of a concern," he said, and Bennett was not asked back.

Woolsey said Bennett underwent a background check through the Kentucky State Police and the FBI before being hired as a substitute, but it reported no criminal history.

"He may be guilty of some things, but nobody's ever filed a charge against him," he said.

The district, Woolsey said, looks to see "if there's any instance of sexual misconduct, child abuse or something of that nature. We don't want to hire bank robbers, thieves, that sort of thing."

Staff Writer Jim Logan contributed to this story.

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