Pandora's box on sexual abuse

April 10, 1995

When Northeast High School teacher Ronald W. Price confessed to having sex with students, he opened a Pandora's Box of miseries.

For the past two years, the Anne Arundel County school system has been absorbed in rooting out child abusers, disciplining administrators who ignored reports of abuse, and rewriting policies on abuse investigations. The results have been mixed. A child abuser, Price, is behind bars and the school system now has clearer guidelines on how to deal with child abuse allegations. But employee morale is low, suspicion of the school system remains high, and more than a few people are tired of the turmoil.

Worst of all, the controversy is not over. Former Northeast science teacher Laurie S. Cook, who was accused of having sex with a 14-year-old male student, is appealing the school board's decision to fire her for misconduct. Ms. Cook has been exonerated by a Circuit Court jury and an independent hearing examiner. Her suspension should have ended at that point, but the board is attempting to fire her in spite of two acquittals.

Meanwhile, administrative hearings are pending in cases against Charles A. Yocum, a former special education teacher at Northeast, and Thomas A. Newman, a teacher at the Center for Applied Technology South. Both were accused of having sex with students years ago; the courts acquitted both of child abuse charges. But as in the case of Ms. Cook, school Superintendent Carol S. Parham is seeking to have the teachers dismissed for misconduct.

The teachers' union has decried these investigations as "witch hunts," but the superintendent has no choice. The board has directed Dr. Parham to investigate allegations of child abuse, even if other government agencies have found no fault.

After watching the Cook case drag on for months, it's tempting to ask the board to spare the schools, the witnesses and the teachers from further hearings, give up on the other two cases, and put this shameful episode in the past. But the board has a duty to investigate these cases as thoroughly as possible -- and then abide by the findings.

For those who wish the box had never been opened, there's one consolation. After Pandora set the miseries upon the world, she looked inside the box again and found Hope had not escaped. We, too, can only hope that even if it takes months or years, justice will be served.

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