A lawyer defending the Northeast High School teacher charged with sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy says her client is a victim of an atmosphere of "hysteria" at the school that has followed the April arrest of a male teacher.
"We're vehemently denying the charges," said Cristina Gutierrez, who is representing Laurie Susanne Cook. "It's not unusual for hhTC young male student to have a crush on a young, attractive teacher or, in the context of the hysteria at Northeast, to have created an accusation out of nothing."
Ms. Cook a science teacher at Northeast for the past six years, was suspended with pay yesterday after her weekend arrest on a charge of a fourth-degree sex offense, which involves touching.
Ms. Gutierrez said her client was widely respected in the Northeast community and that "her whole life has been turned upside down in a couple of days."
"She's very willing to take a lie detector test, but the problem with lie detector tests is they can't be admitted in court," Ms. Gutierrez said.
She noted that Ms. Cook, 33, had taught the youth who apparently identified her to police as well as to his siblings.
"This was a student from a family with whom she's had contact for a number of years," Ms. Gutierrez said.
The attorney also said that Ms. Cook's case has been tied in the news media to that of Ronald Walter Price, a 49-year-old socIal studies teacher who was charged last month with sexually abusing a 16-year-old girl at the school this year and two other young women.
"The cases are dissimilar," Ms. Gutierrez said, "and to say otherwise demeans the facts."
Mr. Price has admitted on national television to having sexual relations with as many as six or seven girls in the last 15 years, usually on school property and occasionally during school hours. His current wife is a former student, as was one of his former wives.
Ms. Gutierrez said that in light of the publicity surrounding the Price case, "it certainly crossed our minds that students and parents may well be seeing dollar signs in terms of making these kind of allegations."
Thomas J. Paolino, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, said yesterday that the investigation into whether teachers other than Mr. Price were having sex with other Northeast students has "become a witch hunt."
"The teachers at Northeast are very frustrated, they are very angry," Mr. Paolino said. "They feel we've now moved beyond legitimate investigation and into a witch hunt. I met with them this afternoon, and they wanted to know what protocol is and what happens if charges are made against them next. Students realize the amount of power that they have. They now hold every teacher's job in their hands."
Mr. Paolino has asked the Board of Education to have counselors at the school explain to students the legal ramifications of filing a false complaint against a teacher.
Charging documents in the case against Ms. Cook said the abuse took place between Sept. 1, 1991, and Feb. 28, 1992, while she was the boy's science teacher.
The boy told investigators that he began meeting her during and after school in her classroom, and that she gave him answers to tests, the charging documents said.
Meanwhile, the president of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs, Carolyn Roeding, called on Gov. William Donald Schaefer to push for an independent investigation of specific incidents at Northeast. Mrs. Roeding also has asked for a review of the systemwide handling of child-abuse complaints and how school employees are trained with respect to their roles in reporting suspected cases.
"It just screams for an outside investigation," she said.