This is an excerpt of On Assignment, education writer Theresa Harrington's blog on Contra Costa County schools. Read more and post comments at IBABuzz.com/onassignment. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa or Facebook.com/TheresaHarringtonBANG.
A lawsuit filed against the Mt. Diablo school district last month by the Bay Area News Group provides a comprehensive look at the circumstances that led to Woodside Elementary School teacher Joseph Martin's arrest and the subsequent claims made against the district.
As reported by Times writer Lisa Vorderbrueggen, the Bay Area News Group is asking a judge to force the district to release internal records about Martin, 45, who has been charged with 125 counts related to the alleged sexual molestation of 13 male students between 2006 and April. He was arrested in June and is in jail on $10 million bail. He pleaded not guilty in July. If convicted, Martin faces life in prison.
The district has refused to produce documents pertaining to Martin, citing personnel and investigatory exemptions in California's public records law. This news organization argues in its lawsuit filed in Contra Costa County Superior Court that the records are not exempt and must be produced.
BANG attorney Duffy Carolan's 175-page lawsuit includes a 12-page complaint that outlines the chronology of the state's case against Martin, along with three subsequent claims and a civil rights lawsuit. It also details reporter Matthias Gafni's attempts to get records related to Martin from the district. A subsequent claim was filed against the district Thursday by another former student, alleging that at least 11 current and former district officials failed to report suspicions of child abuse by Martin to police or Child Protective Services, as required by law.
In a June 29 Public Records Act Request, Gafni sought: "Any and all writings pertaining to Mt. Diablo Unified School District teacher Joseph Andrew Martin, 45, relating to allegations of wrongdoing (including inappropriate behavior with students), complaints, investigations, findings, discipline meted out or other action taken against Mr. Martin during his tenure at the district."
BANG is seeking district investigations into incidents that were allegedly witnessed and reported to district officials by other teachers. For example, one complaint alleges that a teacher walked in on Martin and a male student one evening and saw that they were behind a closet door with their shoes off. Another teacher said older boys who had graduated often returned to the campus and went into Martin's classroom alone, with the door locked, according to claims.
In one claim, a 2013 police report is quoted, which cites a 2006 internal district document that found "potential child abuse" by Martin. The police report says no one from the district reported Martin to outside authorities. Instead, the district created new rules for Martin, such as keeping his classroom door open at all times, according to the claim.
A link to the complete lawsuit is in the On Assignment blog.
This is not the first time BANG has requested personnel-related documents from the district. In the past, I have received large files from the district in relation to personnel decisions that led to separation agreements with employees. These files contained numerous memos documenting complaints and meetings to remedy those complaints. No such documents were released to BANG in relation to Martin.
And earlier this year, Times columnist Daniel Borenstein asked the school board to review documents that were withheld from his Public Records Act request by then-General Counsel Greg Rolen. Borenstein asked trustees to waive the privilege asserted by Rolen and to release documents related to employment agreements with then-Superintendent Steven Lawrence, Rolen and three other top administrators. As a result of Borenstein's appeal directly to the school board -- which bypassed the general counsel -- trustees agreed to release more documents.
In this case, too, the board has the right to override Interim General Counsel Jayne Williams' denials and release documents that are being withheld, in the interest of public transparency.
Do you believe the district should release documents that it is withholding related to complaints about Martin?