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Petition started to reinstate fired Pocatello coach

By By Chris Cole
Published On: Dec 24 2013 02:34:42 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 09 2013 11:20:09 PM CST

After hearing of the firing of Pocatello High School coach Laraine Cook, one woman decided if the district was taking action, she would too.

POCATELLO, Idaho -

It's become an international news story that started in Pocatello. Pocatello High School girls basketball coach Laraine Cook was fired over a Facebook photo where her fiance had his hand on her breast. But there are people showing their support by hitting the Web and adding their name to a petition on Change.org (see http://chn.ge/1fsVwIU).

Nikky Prause is a former Pocatello resident and Idaho State University professor. She heard about the story in Los Angeles, where she currently lives, and decided to start the petition, citing clear sexism on School District 25's part.

"The fact is that they kind of stepped over and said not only is this sexual, it's offensively sexual," Prause said Saturday afternoon. "I find it very confusing and it looks like a lot of other people do too."

Prause, who stated she extensively studied sexual images for her clinical science doctoral thesis, said if she put this image with others that were considered sexual, it would look out of place.

"From a pure science perspective I can say that image does not look sexual," Prause said.

Prause is not alone in thinking the school district should have left the issue alone after Pocatello High School handled the matter internally. Petitioners are signing from all over southeast Idaho, as well as Las Vegas, NV, West Haven, Utah and Atlanta, Ga.

Many petitioners are questioning the reasoning behind the district's decision. On Oct. 22, a short time after the district received an anonymous letter with the picture, district officials gave Laraine Cook two options: quit or get fired. Cook refused to quit, and was promptly terminated.

Furthermore, the latest information from the district shows it saw this as a violation of the Code of Ethics for Idaho Professional Educators, and submitted this to the Professional Standards Commission, which could revoke her teaching certificate.

Jon Cummings, a Pocatello resident who signed the petition, said the punishment does not match the crime.

"One little mistake and your whole livelihood goes down the drain," Cummings said. "It looks really bad on Idaho, and makes us look like a bunch of prudes."

Cummings said parents aren't upset about the image -- they're upset about the district's handling of the matter, especially as they fired Cook and not the man who was touching her chest, fellow Pocatello High School coach and fiance, Tom Harrison. Cummings said this one matter shouldn't overshadow the positive example she's set for the team.

"Does that mean the girls will say, 'Oh, the guy's got his hand on her boob. Looks like I'm going to have to take a picture with a guy's hand on my boob'?" Cummings said. "No, that's not how it works."

Prause sent a link to the petition to School District 25 Superintendent Mary Vagner, Community Relations' Shelly Allen and Human Resources Director Douglas Howell, as well as local media outlets. When she sent it at 6:00 p.m. Friday, it had 429 signatures. As of 6:30 p.m. Saturday, almost 1,100 people had added their names.

"To me, the bottom line underlining all of this, is, 'Did she post something that was offensive?'" said Prause. "And what we're saying is, 'It's not offensive, so it's not even an issue.'"

Prause also said the petition is meant to reinstate Cook, and was created before she knew Cook could lose her teaching certificate. She said she plans to find out if she can add to the current petition or create a new petition.

We also spoke with Cheryl DenHartog over the phone Saturday, who stated there is a Facebook group to raise money for Cook's legal defense and any other expenses she has.

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