Teacher Cook's hearing to go on until Jan. 18

January 01, 1995|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer

Eight days, including a 12-hour session Thursday, weren't enough to conclude the hearing on whether former Northeast High School teacher Laurie S. Cook keeps her job with the Anne Arundel County school system.

The teacher, accused of having a sexual relationship with a male student, testified for nearly two hours in her defense Thursday.

Her cross-examination, which could last an hour or more, has been postponed until 11 a.m. Jan. 11. Other witnesses will testify afterward in rebuttal that day. Final arguments will be heard Jan. 18.

"There's a confluence of events that have conspired to drag this out," said P. Tyson Bennett, a lawyer representing Superintendent Carol S. Parham in the hearings.

"There's a lot more involved in this administrative case than her trial," he said. "The criminal trial didn't really involve any education issues. All it really involved was the boy and a couple of family members saying, 'This is what happened.' "

Ms. Cook was acquitted of a charge of child sex abuse at her December 1993 trial. The charge stemmed from the male student's accusations.

In July, after school system investigators reported their conclusions to Dr. Parham, the superintendent recommended that Ms. Cook be fired based on four counts of misconduct. She is accused of having a sexual relationship with the student and of writing hall passes to help a 16-year-old female student cover up an affair with a male teacher at Northeast. Ms. Cook has denied all of the allegations.

She appealed the recommendation that she be fired and asked that the hearings be opened to the public. The school board appointed William M. Ferris to hear the evidence and testimony and make a recommendation. He will be joined by board members when the lawyers make their final arguments Jan. 18.

The hearing has focused on standards of conduct for educators, including how involved a teacher should become with a student and the student's family.

The student who accused Ms. Cook, and his mother and sister, have testified that Ms. Cook spent three to four evenings a week at their home near the Pasadena school.

Ms. Cook denied having a close relationship with the student or his family and said she visited the home no more than twice during the fall 1991 semester, when he was her student.

"But she admitted she took the boy out of school to visit his sister in the hospital, hired the father to do work, took his sister to Rhode Island to find a place to live, loaned her money for books, and she admits she let the sister call collect," Mr. Bennett said. "Why would anybody who has no special relationship with a family do these things?"

Ms. Cook denied under oath that she could have been at the family's home as often as members said. She said she took graduate classes Tuesday and Thursday evenings and spent several nights a week at aerobics classes.

Melissa Schisler, a former Northeast student, testified that during the period the youth alleged Ms. Cook was driving him home and staying to visit, the teacher was really driving her to her boyfriend's house after school.

Ms. Cook's lawyer, M. Cristina Gutierrez, called witnesses to testify that the youth was known to be a braggart and a behavior problem in class, and that, in middle school, teachers had expressed concern about inappropriate sexual comments he made.

His football coaches and a former teammate at Northeast all said that the teen-ager -- a ninth-grader when the relationship is alleged to have occurred -- would go to great lengths to be the center of attention.

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