Why Laurie Cook?

June 29, 1994

So the Anne Arundel County Board of Education is going after former Northeast High School teacher Laurie S. Cook because she failed to blow the whistle on convicted sex offender Ron Price. That's interesting. Three-quarters of the rest of the Northeast staff and a bevy of school administrators suspected for 20 years that Price was fooling around with students while he was a teacher at Northeast, but we don't see the school board's ax poised above their necks.

Quite the contrary, the board has oozed forgiveness and understanding. "There is nothing to be gained by punitive action against employees acting in good faith," board President Thomas Twombly said just two months ago. The Northeast principals who turned a blind eye; the assistant principal who knew in 1989 about a student who claimed to have had a sexual relationship with Price; the teachers who found Price embracing girls in storage rooms -- all have been absolved.

Not Laurie Cook. She has been hit with administrative charges of misconduct for not reporting suspected child abuse. It seems she once questioned a student about the girl's relationship with Price. When the girl (who later charged Price) denied any involvement, Ms. Cook let the matter drop.

Indeed, Ms. Cook was wrong. She did not follow child abuse reporting laws, which require school employees to report the slightest suspicion of abuse. But many others ignored the law, too, and Ms. Cook's negligence was not nearly as egregious as that of higher-ranking administrators who knew more about Price than she and who turned their backs. It is unfair to single out Ms. Cook for punishment when every other culpable party has been let off scot free.

The board's decision to charge Ms. Cook alone is a transparent attempt to get rid of this particular teacher. Though Ms. Cook has been acquitted in court of child abuse (she remains on paid leave), school officials clearly are not convinced her behavior was all a teacher's should be. They have also charged her with having inappropriate relationships with students. Whether she deserves to be dismissed for that charge is another matter.

But this much is certain: Laurie Cook does not deserve to be disciplined because she kept quiet about Ron Price. Not unless the board is prepared to punish everybody else who did the same.

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