Teacher cleared in student sex case

March 14, 1995|By Carol L. Bowers and Andrea F. Siegel | Carol L. Bowers and Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writers

Former Northeast High School teacher Laurie S. Cook should be returned to classroom teaching because the student who claimed he had sex with her lied, a hearing examiner has found.

The examiner's confidential report, obtained by The Sun, said there was no evidence Ms. Cook had sex with a 14-year-old male student during the 1991-1992 school year or that she wrote hall passes to cover up a female student's affair with another Northeast teacher.

Hearing examiner William M. Ferris concluded that the male student "fabricated the story of his sexual activity with [Ms. Cook] and that his mother and sister have simply attempted to support his claims."

He wrote that he "believes that [the student] originally made up the story of his intimacies with Ms. Cook because his very good friend . . . who apparently later recanted them, made claims of engaging in such activities with her."

Was acquitted in court

Ms. Cook was arrested in May 1993 on a charge of child sex abuse and was suspended with pay. In December 1993, she was acquitted in Anne Arundel Circuit Court.

Last year, Superintendent Carol S. Parham asked the school board to fire Ms. Cook based on four allegations of professional misconduct. The school board hired Mr. Ferris to hear the case. His 25-page report was distilled from more than 40 hours of testimony over eight hearing dates in December and January.

"We are not commenting on the substance of the report and are surprised it is out there," said M. Cristina Gutierrez, one of Ms. Cook's lawyers.

P. Tyson Bennett, who presented the Board of Education's case against Ms. Cook, said he was under "my client's orders not to comment."

School officials criticized

In his report, Mr. Ferris criticized the way Anne Arundel County school officials handled the case. What was lacking, he said, were key documents, such as hall passes, and witnesses, including the male student's father.

A school investigator interviewed 22 people, but her findings were rejected by Mr. Ferris, who faulted the report because it consisted of summaries of statements and did not include verbatim exchanges and sworn statements.

However, Mr. Ferris wrote that he found "extremely convincing" testimony from a female student who claimed Ms. Cook had written hall passes so that she could hide in-school liaisons with another Northeast teacher, Ronald W. Price.

Mr. Ferris said the girl's testimony left him "with the strong impression that Ms. Cook felt that she had done something 'wrong,' " but that there was not enough evidence to show what that might be.

Mr. Ferris noted that he had the impression that Ms. Cook was a "frequent visitor" at the youth's home in the spring and summer of 1992.

However, he pointed out discrepancies in testimony about the dates and times witnesses said Ms. Cook visited the family. While one neighbor said Ms. Cook visited as early as 2 p.m. or 3 p.m., the student testified that his teacher drove him home after football practice, which ended several hours later.

Ms. Cook testified that she did visit the family occasionally during the school year because she was concerned about the youth's schoolwork. She said she visited more frequently in the spring and summer of 1992 because she had hired the youth's father to work on her rental property.

Ms. Cook, assigned since last summer to an administrative job at the Carrie Weedon Science Center, said she wants to return to her position at Northeast.

Board to vote

Typically, the board discusses personnel matters privately before and during its twice-monthly meetings. The next meeting is tomorrow night, and the board could vote then on the recommendation.

Five members must vote in favor either reinstating Ms. Cook or firing her.

Only six of the eight school board members should be allowed to vote, the hearing examiner said. Board vice president Thomas Twombly, whose district includes Pasadena, excused himself, and Thomas E. Florestano did not hear the closing arguments.

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