Cook to appeal firing


Laurie S. Cook's lawyers charged yesterday that one of the five Anne Arundel County school board members who voted to fire the former teacher did not hear the closing arguments, thus violating an earlier agreement.

"They agreed that only board members who heard final arguments would vote," M. Cristina Gutierrez, Ms. Cook's lawyer, said during a news conference at the Maryland State Teachers Association headquarters in Baltimore. "They should be ashamed of themselves."

The board voted 5-2 Wednesday to fire Ms. Cook, a one-time Northeast High School teacher who was accused of having sex with a male student and of covering up a female student's affair with another teacher, Ronald W. Price.

The procedural argument is one of several reasons Ms. Cook has said she will appeal the board's decision to the state Board of Education. The state board could grant her a new hearing.

Thomas E. Florestano, former president of Anne Arundel Community College, cast the vote in dispute. Dr. Florestano did not return two phone calls yesterday.

"They let Tom Florestano vote because they couldn't have done this without him," Ms. Gutierrez said.

Michael A. Pace, the board president, said the board never agreed who would hear final arguments or vote.

"That was a disputed legal issue," Mr. Pace said. "The board considered the opinions and saw no difference in Dr. Florestano having heard oral arguments rather than reading them, particularly since oral argument isn't evidence in the first place."

The board's decisions to let Dr. Florestano vote and to fire Ms. Cook went against the recommendations of William M. Ferris, the hearing examiner appointed to hear her case.

In his 25-page opinion, Mr. Ferris found that Ms. Cook's male student accuser had lied and that the teacher had not written hall passes to cover up a female student's affair with Price.

Mr. Ferris recommended letting Ms. Cook resume her teaching career and allowing only the six board members who heard final arguments to vote. An eighth board member did not participate in the case.

The five who voted to fire Ms. Cook issued a 17-page summary response after the vote and said Mr. Ferris was "plain wrong" to say Ms. Cook should be reinstated.

The board members noted that Mr. Ferris had found that Ms. Cook did discuss "her own sexual and romantic life, including her preference for black men," with the female student and said that "in and of itself, is grounds for termination."

The board members also said they believed Ms. Cook's accuser, even though a jury cleared Ms. Cook of having sex with the youth.

Ms. Cook, a science teacher at Northeast, was arrested in May 1993. The jury acquitted her in December 1993. Last July, Superintendent Carol S. Parham said Ms. Cook should be fired.

"I do want to fight this," Ms. Cook, 34, said at yesterday's news conference.

She will lose her job within 30 days.

Mr. Pace said the decision was difficult for board members.

"There are no winners here, no exultation," Mr. Pace said. "This was a sad situation from all sides. If she appeals, the process will continue. Whatever happens, happens. I, for one, feel confident we made the right decision under the right circumstance."

Joseph Foster, who cast one of the two votes supporting Mr. Ferris' report, said he was prepared to discipline Ms. Cook for inappropriate conversations with a student and then put her in a classroom.

Terry Gilleland, the student board member, said he "would be proud to have Laurie Cook as a teacher" and that he supported Mr. Ferris' findings.

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