Laurie Cook's Case: Not Another Price

COMMENT

May 23, 1993|By ELISE ARMACOST

Is anyone really surprised that a second Anne Arundel County high school teacher has been arrested for sexual abuse?

Not really. Everyone's been expecting that.

But the fact that the accused teacher is a woman comes as a shock, for three reasons:

First, we're more likely to think of teen-age sexual abuse as involving "dirty old men" with young girls, not women with young boys. When the subject is an older woman and a teen-aged boy, we tend to treat it not as the abuse it is, but as a form of higher education -- the kind Anne Bancroft gave Dustin Hoffman.

Second, female teachers have always been one of society's "safest" figures.

And third, the idea that a woman might be involved in the dirty business of teachers having sexual encounters with students runs counter to everything Northeast High teacher Ron Price has been saying.

Mr. Price has insisted ever since he was arrested that there were others like him. He even told Geraldo other teachers borrowed the key to his house for trysts with students and he threatened to hold a news conference releasing their names.

But the implication was always that these "other teachers" were men. The male teachers at Northeast -- not the women -- have been complaining that everyone looks at them suspiciously since the Price allegations.

One woman who called The Sun anonymously, but identified herself as a Northeast teacher, expressed no fear that women teachers were being judged similarly. She cast more aspersions on the men, saying she believed Mr. Price is telling the truth when he says other male teachers are fooling around. "All the men in this school are scum," she said.

But it is a woman, Laurie Susanne Cook, 33, who now stands accused of fondling a 14-year-old boy in a room behind her science classroom.

Even Mr. Price's lawyers, for all they've insisted that sexual abuse is rampant in Anne Arundel County schools, admitted their client was "absolutely shocked."

Ms. Cook's lawyers are seeking to use to advantage the fact that their client is not the "second Ron Price" everyone expected. They are presenting her in as different a light as possible from him, even depicting her as yet another victim of her infamous colleague.

"This is not a Ron Price case," attorney Cristina Gutierrez said at a press conference last week.

Indeed, there are important differences between the two cases.

The most important is that unlike Mr. Price, who not only admits to having had sex with students for years but has explained exactly how he chose and manipulated his victims, Ms. Cook maintains her innocence.

That means she will be tried in court, not on "Geraldo!" It also means she will not be the huge national story Mr. Price was. He certainly was not the first teacher, in Anne Arundel or anywhere else, to be accused of a sexual crime. It was his willingness to exploit the titillating nature of his own wrongdoing on national television that made him famous.

Ms. Cook and her lawyers show no signs of following Mr. Price down that path; so far, they have chosen the "high road," answering questions in press conferences before the local media.

Several teachers, including the head of the county teacher's union, have taken up for Ms. Cook publicly, painting her as the quarry in a "witch hunt" that has followed the arrest of Mr. Price (who, of course, has no defenders besides his beleaguered wife).

Mr. Price has tried to make himself a victim, too, but his claim that school officials wronged him by not helping him overcome his "illness" has met only with derision. Ms. Cook's contention that she is the victim of hysteria has a much greater chance of being taken seriously.

Still, for the Northeast community, and, to a lesser extent, parents and teachers across the county, Ms. Cook's case could prove even more wrenching than Mr. Price's.

From the day he was arrested, no one had to wrestle with whether Ron Price really did the things he was accused of doing. Some of his students probably still have a hard time reconciling that the teacher they knew and liked could be a sex abuser. But Mr. Price, by his own admission, tried to provide the community with as little doubt as possible.

With Laurie Cook, however, we know nothing -- except that it's getting harder by the day to know whom our children can trust.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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