Joseph Martin spent the final year in his Woodside Elementary School classroom grooming an 11-year-old boy before eventually molesting him, according to a claim filed Wednesday against the Mt. Diablo school district related to allegations against the fifth-grade teacher.
On his final day teaching in April, after the allegations surfaced and he was placed on administrative leave, Martin was allowed by district officials to return to the classroom to "say goodbye," and took the opportunity to corner the boy and dissuade him from reporting the fondling, according to the claim. This contradicts what the district initially said in a statement that the "teacher in question was removed immediately and has not returned to the campus."
Martin has been charged with 91 felony counts of child molestation on at least 11 current and former students between 2006 and April 2013. Martin, who pleaded not guilty July 3, is in jail on $10 million bail and faces life imprisonment if convicted.
The claim names Martin, former Woodside principal Jennifer Sachs, former Woodside principal Michele Batesole, current Woodside principal Jenny Cronan, former superintendent Steven Lawrence and former general counsel Greg Rolen as district employees who failed to prevent the abuse, alleging officials received allegations against the teacher as early as 2007 but did nothing. State law requires school district employees to report child abuse allegations to police or Child Protective Services.
"It's just a sad and tragic example of history repeating itself. It's not the first time and it likely won't be the last time a school district knew about and could have prevented child abuse," said Marc Lewis, an attorney representing the boy and his family. "The only thing more tragic than the abuse our client suffered was it could have all been prevented had the district done its job."
Interim general counsel Jayne Williams said the district received the claim Wednesday but had no comment.
The claim, which asks for more than $25,000, also marks the second civil action taken against the school district's handling of Martin. On July 8, a lawsuit was filed in Contra Costa County on behalf of a different student in Martin's classroom who claimed he received back rubs and other inappropriate touching.
The Concord boy who filed Wednesday's claim, who has since graduated from Woodside, alleges Martin began grooming him during the past school year.
Martin, who worked for the district since 1991, devoted large amounts of time to viewing movies and filming extravagant class productions, according to the claim. The boy was recruited to star in three of those performances, allowing for more one-on-one time between the pair. The boy was assigned to the front row of the class next to Martin's desk, according to the claim, and the teacher chaperoned a school-sponsored overnight camp that the boy attended for several days in late 2012.
Martin began giving the boy back rubs during class, which progressed to him putting his hands down the boy's shirt and giving him "long hugs" throughout the school day, the claim alleges. It culminated with sexual abuse, the boy claims.
"During reading sessions, Martin would approach (the boy) while he was seated and slowly position a book in his lap; sweeping his groin and fondling his penis in the process," the claim states.
In the course of the abuse, Martin would often say "I love you," and write notes to the boy asking such things as: "Where on his body he would like to be rubbed." The teacher would always collect the notes after the boy read them, the claim alleges.
Because Martin was popular on the campus, a group of boys, including John Doe, made a pact not to tell anyone about the behavior, which they knew to be wrong, according to the claim.
On April 25, police were notified of abuse allegations against Martin, an investigation started, and he was removed from the classroom and placed on leave.
However, the boy claims Martin was allowed into the classroom one last time to "say goodbye."
"In the course of speaking to and interacting with the students, the (boy's) parents have learned that Martin pulled the (boy) aside and forcefully insisted to the (boy) that he had not touched his penis," the claim alleges.
The boy's parents, who are also named as claimants, first learned of the abuse in May after receiving a phone call from Concord police alerting them that their son's name had been mentioned in a child sexual abuse case at the school. It has been a tough road for the 11-year-old boy, Lewis said.
"He's struggling right now, but he's a young child, and we don't know the extent of his harm, but we fear these depraved acts caused harm for the rest of his life."
Staff writer Malaika Fraley contributed to this report. Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.