Family, friends and co-workers rallied yesterday around Northeast High School teacher accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy, saying they are "horrified" by the allegations against the woman.
"I know my daughter and she's a good teacher," Mary-Pat Cook said during a family news conference yesterday. "I'm horrified somebody would make these allegations. I know they're false. I know my daughter."
Laurie Susanne Cook, 33, was charged Saturday with a fourth-degree sex offense, which involves touching.
She is the second teacher at the school to be arrested and chraged with child sexual abuse.
Ms. Cook, clearly shaken, tried to maintain her composure as she faced radio, television, newspaper and wire service reporters crowded into her lawyer's office on Calvert Street in Baltimore.
She answered questions calmly in a quiet voice as her parents, two brothers and several friends stood behind her.
"I didn't do it. The charges are false," said Ms. Cook, a science teacher at Northeast for the past six years. "I was in shock for two whole days. I was crying all day yesterday. I don't deserve this."
Ms. Cook told reporters the youth who accused her was a student in her class in the fall semester of 1991, but she denied touching the student.
Charging documents said the youth alleged Ms. Cook allowed him to touch her sexually on at least 10 different occasions. The incidents allegedly occurred in a room behind her classroom.
Ms. Cook said she did not learn of the allegations against her until 8 a.m. Saturday, when Baltimore County police arrived at her Catonsville home to arrest her. She was transferred into the custody of Anne Arundel County police before being released on $10,000 bail.
Maureen McMahon, a science teacher at Northeast High who has been on leave, stood by her friend. Ms. McMahon described Ms. Cook as a dedicated teacher she has known for six years.
Ms. McMahon said she decided to support her friend "because someone needs to be supportive of teachers who are in a terrifying environment at Northeast." She said the arrest of Ms. Cook has prompted many educators to re-examine their own actions toward students to avoid being falsely accused.
Cristina Gutierrez, who represents Ms. Cook, said the atmosphere of "hysteria" at the school after the April arrest of Ronald Walter Price has made it difficult for her to defend her client.
Mr. Price was charged with having sex with three young women, two of whom have since graduated from the high school.
He has married two former students, and has admitted to having sex with as many as six or seven students in the past 15 years, usually on school property. On "Geraldo" and "A Current Affair," Mr. Price has said he has "an illness."
Attorneys for Mr. Price insist that other teachers at Northeast have had sex with students, and at one point threatened to hold a news conference and release their names. But attorney Jonathan Resnick said yesterday that Mr. Price was "absolutely shocked" by the charges against Ms. Cook.
"This is not a Ron Price case," said Ms. Gutierrez. "This is an atmosphere that should frighten us all. It's one thing for the pendulum to swing from where you had people denying sex abuse was occurring, and another to swing forward to where everyone has to watch their actions. Would anybody want to be a teacher at Northeast now?"
That's a question parents are asking, too.
Carolyn Roeding, president of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs, is meeting with state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick tomorrow to push for an independent investigation into the Northeast situation.
Other parents, led by Frances and Robert E. Smith, are planning a protest at the school at 7 a.m. Monday in an effort to help get an independent investigation.
"My daughter tells me the seniors want to participate in graduation, but they're ashamed to be graduating from Northeast," Mrs. Smith said. "We know there are quality teachers at Northeast. We just want to give the school back to them, and back to the students. We want to give the school back its pride."