Fired teacher says board violated an agreement

March 17, 1995|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer

Laurie S. Cook's lawyers charged yesterday that one of the five Anne Arundel County school board members who voted to fire the former teacher did not hear the closing arguments, thus violating an earlier agreement.

"They agreed that only board members who heard final arguments would vote," M. Cristina Gutierrez, Ms. Cook's lawyer, said during a news conference at the Maryland State Teachers Association headquarters in Baltimore. "They should be ashamed of themselves."

The board voted 5-2 Wednesday to fire Ms. Cook, a former Northeast High School teacher who was accused of having sex with a male student and of covering up a female student's affair with another teacher, Ronald W. Price. A jury acquitted Ms. Cook JTC of having sex with the youth.

The procedural argument is one of several reasons Ms. Cook has said she will appeal the board's decision to the state Board of Education. The state board could grant her a new hearing.

Thomas E. Florestano, former president of Anne Arundel Community College, cast the vote in dispute. Dr. Florestano did not return two phone calls yesterday.

"They let Tom Florestano vote because they couldn't have done this without him," Ms. Gutierrez said.

President Michael A. Pace said the board never agreed who would hear final arguments or vote.

"That was a disputed legal issue," Mr. Pace said. "The board considered the opinions and saw no difference in Dr. Florestano having heard oral arguments rather than reading them, particularly since oral argument isn't evidence in the first place."

The board's decisions to let Dr. Florestano vote and to fire Ms. Cook went against the recommendations of William M. Ferris, the hearing examiner appointed to hear her case.

In his 25-page opinion, Mr. Ferris found that Ms. Cook's male student accuser had lied and that the teacher had not written hall passes to cover up a female student's affair with Price.

Mr. Ferris recommended letting Ms. Cook resume her teaching career and allowing only the six board members who heard final arguments to vote. An eighth board member did not participate in the case.

The five who voted to fire Ms. Cook issued a 17-page summary response after the vote and said Mr. Ferris was "plain wrong" to say Ms. Cook should be reinstated.

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