Arundel school board fires Cook in sex case

March 16, 1995|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer

The Anne Arundel County school board voted 5-2 last night to fire former Northeast High School teacher Laurie S. Cook.

The vote came less than a week after a hearing examiner declared charges of professional misconduct against Ms. Cook had not been proved and 15 months after a jury acquitted her of having sex with a male student.

Ms. Cook has the right to appeal the decision to the state Board of Education. The firing is to take effect in the next 30 days when the board issues the official document explaining its decision.

"We're disappointed. Angry. But I can't say I'm surprised in light of all the twists and turns of the case," said M. Cristina Gutierrez, Ms. Cook's attorney, who was on her way to call her client to notify her of the decision.

"Laurie has survived for 22 months of this witch hunt. . . . She knows it's not over until it's over," Ms. Gutierrez said.

Susan Russell, a lawyer for the state teachers' union, said, "You can be damn sure they did not read the transcripts. They made this decision from preconceived notions because they needed a scapegoat for the Baron opinion."

Board President Michael A. Pace announced the board's decision last night.

Reading from a prepared statment, said, "Five members of the board conclude and hereby find that the superintendent has satisfied her burden to show by a preponderance of the evidence that Ms. Cook was guilty of misconduct in office."

The Baron Report, named for Washington lawyer Alan I. Baron, recommended the school system investigate teachers accused of wrongdoing even if no charges were pressed against them or they were acquitted in court.

Ms. Cook has maintained her innocence since the day she was arrested in May 1993 and charged with one count of child sex abuse.

In December 1993, a jury acquitted her of the charge, but she remained suspended with pay pending a separate investigation by the school system to determine whether her actions violated school policies.

In July 1994, Superintendent Carol S. Parham lodged four charges of administrative misconduct against Ms. Cook, assigned her to an administrative job temporarily and recommended the board fire her.

Ms. Cook appealed, and what followed were more than 48 hours of testimony in a rare public hearing spread over eight days this winter. The case was heard by hearing examiner William M. Ferris, who was appointed by the board.

In a confidential report, obtained by The Sun, Mr. Ferris said the student who accused Ms. Cook lied about having sex with her.

Mr. Ferris also found that Ms. Cook did not cover up the affair a female student was having with Ronald W. Price, the first teacher arrested in what became a systemwide teacher-student sex scandal.

Mr. Ferris said the male student "fabricated the story of his sexual activity with [Ms. Cook] and his mother and sister have simply attempted to support his claims."

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