Probe of Arundel teacher to continue

December 23, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers and Andrea F. Siegel | Carol L. Bowers and Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writers

An Anne Arundel County teacher acquitted of child sexual abuse charges this month will remain on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the school system's own investigation.

Laurie S. Cook, 33, met yesterday to discuss her employment status with acting Superintendent Carol S. Parham, school spokeswoman Nancy Jane Adams said.

"They told us they were investigating the same actions and circumstances that led to her being charged in the first place," said M. Cristina Gutierrez, a Baltimore lawyer representing Ms. Cook. "They would not elaborate. I think the school board is acting out of the same fear that has gripped it since the beginning of all of these allegations."

Ms. Cook, a Northeast High School science teacher, has been out of the classroom since May, when a male student accused her of having a sexual liaison with him. She was the second of four teachers at the Pasadena school to be removed from the classroom based on allegations of sexual misconduct with students.

Her three-day trial focused on whether the student was lying when he said that he and Ms. Cook had oral sex at least once in her car and that they often fondled each other in the back of her science classroom after school. He testified that he broke off the relationship after she told him she wanted to have his baby. Members of the student's family also testified that Ms. Cook was often at their home late in the evening.

Ms. Cook did not take the stand to respond to the allegations, but several teachers and a student testified on her behalf. She has maintained her innocence since her arrest.

"She has never denied [being at the student's house]," Ms. Gutierrez said of her client. "It's not misconduct for a teacher to interact with a student and his family, including going publicly -- not in secret -- to their home. I think there was sufficient evidence to establish just how needy this student and his family were."

Although the teacher was acquitted, the school system can still discipline Ms. Cook if it finds she violated school policy. Disciplinary measures can vary from a reprimand to firing. Teachers union officials are upset at the school system's new practice of investigating after the trial cleared Ms. Cook, saying officials should let an unproved allegation die.

But the county school board decided to pursue such cases after being stung by a report this month that said it should follow up on allegations even if police decide they lack enough evidence to make an arrest.

The report was the result of a four-month state-ordered investigation of how the school system handled allegations of sexual abuse.

Northeast social studies teacher Ronald W. Price was convicted in September of sexually abusing three students and is serving a 26-year prison term.

Charles A. Yocum, a special education teacher, is awaiting trial in February on charges he sexually abused a student during the 1988-89 school year.

Brandt C. Schanberger, a gym teacher, was removed from class last week pending a school system investigation; prosecutors have declined to press charges that stem from allegations of sexual abuse 20 years ago.

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