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Board accepts most of recommendation of grievance panel

The Pocatello/Chubbuck School District School Board unanimously approved most of a grievance panel’s recommendation that the firing of its girls basketball coach over a Facebook photo was unfair.

Cook was fired in October after she posted a photo on Facebook showing her fiance, varsity football coach Tom Harrison, touching her chest. Cook took it down soon after it was posted because of concerns expressed by the athletic director, the panel said. Harrison was only reprimanded.

In December, the panel said there was no indication that Laraine Cook’s conduct was indecent or immoral under the Code of Ethics for Professional Educators.

Because the Pocatello School District did not outline any terms of conduct for teachers on social media and because she had no prior marks against her, the panel said her termination should be revoked.

At the School District 25 board meeting Tuesday evening, the board made a major change to the recommendation. They said they would offer Laraine Cook the position, not immediately reinstate like the panel suggested. When prompted for clarification, the school board members refused to comment on whether that meant the position was as substitute teacher and coach, or just one or the other.

This means the time in which Laraine Cook was terminated will now be considered as a suspension without pay, rather than a termination. The decision will also go to the Professional Standards Commission, to which the school district reported the photo as being sexual in nature.

The school board also made it clear they would take the grievance panels recommendation of a social media policy as just that – a recommendation, rather than a mandate. The school board indicated it was already working on a social media policy before the incident with Cook even happened.

The board also read a statement supporting Superintendent Mary Vagner, stating she leads the district through “integrity, wisdom and thoroughness.”

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