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Schools chief urges firing of acquitted teacher


The Anne Arundel County school superintendent yesterday recommended the school board fire Northeast High School teacher Laurie S. Cook, who was found innocent by a jury in December on a charge she had sex with a male student.

The written statement by Dr. Carol S. Parham did not indicate why she was in favor of firing Ms. Cook. Personnel matters are considered confidential under school policy.

But a letter faxed to Ms. Cook's lawyer cited misconduct, including an "inappropriate relationship" with a student, as the primary reasons the 34-year-old science teacher should be dismissed.

"The basis for action is misconduct -- four charges," said M. Cristina Gutierrez, Ms. Cook's lawyer.

"The charges are that Ms. Cook 'engaged in an inappropriate relationships of a personal and sexual nature with a student,' " the lawyer continued. "The student is unnamed, but we presume there's only one student whom she has been accused of having a relationship with, and she was acquitted."

Ms. Gutierrez said the other charges contained in Dr. Parham's letter accuse Ms. Cook of discussing "intimate and personal sexual topics, that she wrote passes for students for improper reasons, and permitted students to miss assigned classes."

After she was acquitted, the school system's own investigator tried to determine whether Ms. Cook had violated school policy. It marked the first time the school system had done its own investigation after a teacher was found innocent in court.

The decision to conduct a separate probe was based on the recommendation of a Washington lawyer hired to find reasons for the school system's mishandling of child abuse cases, especially those in which teachers were accused of being involved with students.

The school system's poor record became apparent when the first of four teachers to be arrested for child abuse explained how he had been able to date students and avoid discovery for more than 20 years.

Ms. Gutierrez criticized the way the school system's investigation was conducted, noting that the investigator did not review a copy of the transcript of Ms. Cook's trial.

Ms. Cook's attorney disputed other points in Dr. Parham's letter.

The sister of the young man claiming a sexual relationship with Ms. Cook told the court in December that Ms. Cook confided that she wanted to have the young man's baby. But Ms. Cook, who did not take the stand, has denied that allegation, Ms. Gutierrez noted.

The issue of hall passes apparently stems from school administrators' belief that Ms. Cook knew about a sexual relationship between a 16-year-old student at Northeast and teacher Ronald W. Price, Ms. Gutierrez said. Price, in a confession televised nationally on "Geraldo," admitted he had sex with the girl on school property.

"Apparently they're referring to Price's interview with investigator Alan Baron, where he talks about hall passes and how people wrote hall passes for a particular student," Ms. Gutierrez said.

Ms. Cook said she once questioned the student who became the first of three young women to accuse Price, but the girl denied it, leaving no reason to file a report.

Recently the eight-member school board said it would not punish employees who failed to report suspected child abuse between 1985 and 1993.

Dr. Parham suspended Ms. Cook without pay yesterday. Ms. Cook has 10 days to file an appeal, which automatically reinstates her pay.

Price was the first of four county teachers to be charged with having sex with students, and the only one to be convicted. He is serving a 21-year sentence.

Ms. Cook was the second teacher at Northeast to be arrested. Two other Northeast teachers, Charles A. Yocum and Thomas A. Newman, also were acquitted.

Dr. Parham has recommended that a fifth teacher be fired over a former student's complaint regarding an alleged incident 20 years ago. The teacher, Brandt Schanberger, was never charged, has denied the allegation and is fighting his dismissal.

The school board could make its decision as early as August.

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