A 14-year-old Montgomery County high school student has retained a lawyer to fight her parents' contentions that she and her math teacher had sexual relations.

The 29-year-old math teacher, John A. Soule, has been charged with the misdemeanor offense of having sex with a person under 15 years of age. The charges were lodged after the girl's parents hired a private detective to follow Soule.

Poolesville High School students who have talked to the girl said she has made contradictory statements about the incident. She recently told a reporter that sexual relations did not take place.

The girl's lawyer, Camilla McRory, would say yesterday only that "the outcome will depend on who is credible."

State public defender James McKenna said the girl was assigned a lawyer "because this is an unusual case that required an unusual step."

Judith Areen, a Georgetown University juvenile justice law professor, said cases like these reflect the growing legal concern over the rights and interests of children. "The usual assumption in [cases such as Soule's] is that parents naturally represent their children's best interest. But the courts are running into more and more cases where that is simply not true," she said.

Soule, who was placed on paid administrative leave by the school system pending completion of an investigation by school officials, has denied the charges.

According to school personnel director Stephen Rohr, Montgomery County School Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo has made a tentative decision on Soule's future in the school system. The decision will be made public by next Wednesday, Rohr said.

Bernardo could either reinstate, reprimand, transfer or fire Soule, who has taught in county schools for seven years.

Rohr said the girl's prospective testimony at Soule's trial and her retention of a lawyer wouldn't have "the slightest effect on the decision." He said Bernardo's decision will be final, regardless of what happens to the formal charges against Soule.

"We're completed our investigation and have a conclusion," he said.

Soule was described by students as an amiable teacher who was able to mix humor with the tedium of everyday education. Although this was only his first year at Poolesville, he was credited with having formed volley-ball, photography and astronomy clubs at the school. He also played records at school disco parties and occasionally played guitar in his classroom for students after school.

Believing Soule would be transferred in early December, more than 130 students signed a petition asking Bernardo to allow the teacher to stay at Poolesville.

Poolesville students said the girl was taunted and mocked by other students after Soule's arrest.