Teacher target of complaint

June 23, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers and Andrea F. Siegel | Carol L. Bowers and Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writers

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education accused former Northeast High School teacher Laurie S. Cook yesterday of failing to tell authorities about fellow teacher Ronald W. Price's affair with a 16-year-old female student.

In a 4:30 p.m. meeting, Ms. Cook was told she faces two administrative charges of misconduct, said her lawyer, M. Cristina Gutierrez.

"She was told she'd had inappropriate relationships with students, but they never said which student or students and they didn't define the nature of the so-called misconduct," Ms. Gutierrez said.

"She also was told she was being charged with a second count of misconduct for failure to report suspected child abuse."

Superintendent Carol S. Parham has not recommended what, if any, disciplinary action should be taken, Ms. Gutierrez said.

"But we fullly expect her to be terminated," the lawyer said. "And if that happens, we'll appeal and it will be an open hearing. Absolutely, it will be open. Do you think I'm going to let them do this in the closet?"

Ms. Cook, a biology teacher, said she thinks the allegation that she failed to report child abuse stems from a conversation with the 16-year-old who became the first to accuse Price of child sex abuse.

"I remember asking her about it. I don't remember what she said that made me ask, but I asked and held my breath for the answer," Ms. Cook said in an interview yesterday. "She denied it."

At that point, Ms. Cook said, she had nothing on which to base a report to police or the county Department of Social Services.

Under school board policy, an employee can be reprimanded, suspended or fired for failing to report child abuse, but until the Price scandal, no teachers received training on how to report it.

An investigation by two independent lawyers revealed that many other teachers at Northeast knew about Price's illicit relationships with students but had done nothing over a 20-year period.

"The board's liability is that people in the system knew about Price and did nothing to stop him," Ms. Gutierrez said. "How can they single out Laurie Cook?"

The investigation by lawyers Alan I. Baron and Eleanor M. Carey also found that most teachers interviewed did not think it was child abuse if a teacher dated an older student and did not know it was a teacher's responsibility -- not the principal's or guidance counselor's -- to report child abuse cases that came to their attention.

Under school board policy, an employee who fails to report child abuse faces discipline ranging from a reprimand to firing. Maryland law lists failure to report child abuse as a crime, but there is no penalty in the statutes.

It was the 16-year-old's telling her guidance counselor that she was having an affair with Price, who was her social studies teacher, that triggered a chain of events that attracted the nation's attention.

Price appeared on nationally televised talk shows to discuss his case and said other teachers in the system also had been sexually involved with students.

A month after police began investigating his claims, Ms. Cook was arrested and charged with one count of child abuse for allegedly having sex with a male student.

She was acquitted in December but has remained on paid administrative leave pending the completion of the school system's separate investigation.

Two other teachers accused of child abuse, Charles A. Yocum and Thomas A. Newman, also were acquitted by juries.

In a fifth case, Northeast gym teacher Brandt C. Schanberger was accused of having a sexual relationship with a female student more than 20 years ago. The state's attorney's office refused to press charges, but the school system conducted its own investigation, and Ms. Parham recommended he be fired.

In an unusual move, Mr. Schanberger's lawyers asked that the disciplinary hearing -- usually a closed proceeding at the employee's request -- be open to the public. The school system did not notify the public of the three hearing dates.

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