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.
The jury trial for former Woodside Elementary teacher Joseph Martin -- who has been charged with 150 counts of molestation involving 14 former students while he taught at the Concord campus in the Mt. Diablo school district -- has been postponed until May.
But, the Bay Area News Group lawsuit seeking district records related to an internal report about suspicions of abuse raised in 2006, along with any other relevant documents, is set to be heard March 19 in Contra Costa County Superior Court.
Attorneys for both sides have been busily trading legal briefs and declarations bolstering their opinions during the past month.
The district is staunchly defending its decision to withhold the documents based on a variety of exemptions asserted under the California Public Records Act. The newspaper group is asking the court to require the district to list everything that is being withheld and to review the documents privately, then decide whether or not they should be released.
Here's a rundown of the arguments by both sides:
The district asserts that every document being withheld is prohibited from public disclosure because it contains identifiable education information for a minor, education records, attorney-client information and attorney work product information as well as information protected by individual privacy laws.
The district asserts that a 2006 internal report prepared by outside attorney Mark Williams related to alleged improper behavior by Martin is exempt from disclosure because it was provided to police in confidence and police compelled the district to provide it as part of the police investigation.
BANG attorney Duffy Carolan counters: "It is inconceivable under the strong body of law governing access to records of public employee wrongdoing that all responsive records pertaining to complaints known to Mt. Diablo Unified School District to at least suggest child abuse by Woodside Elementary School teacher Joseph Martin would be exempt from public disclosure in their entirety."
The district's "vague and unsupported privacy arguments are patently insufficient to establish that any record it is withholding is exempt," Carolan wrote in a court document filed Feb. 26. She also said the district failed to explain why removing the names of students would not suffice to protect student privacy and she disputed the district's claim of attorney-client privilege related to the 2006 report.
"In sum," Carolan wrote, "the district has utterly failed to meet its heavy burden of proof in this case to overcome the strong public interest in access to records that will shed light on the district's handling of serious allegations of wrongdoing that have already imperiled the well-being of its students, and raised legitimate concerns about student safety throughout the district."
Although the district has not named the documents it is withholding, Carolan asserts that a paper trail leading to the decision to call police in 2013 must exist. She suggests documents being withheld could include: an April 24, 2013 complaint from the mother of a Woodside Elementary student to then-Principal Jenny Cronan; notification from Cronan to the assistant superintendent for personnel about the complaint; direction to call police; and notification to Martin that he was being placed on administrative leave.
Related to the 2006 incident, Carolan suggests documents being withheld could include: a report received by then-Principal Jennifer Sachs that Martin was "focusing" on some students over others; Sachs' notification to the assistant superintendent for personnel about this complaint; the conclusion by the district that an investigation was necessary; records relating to an internal investigation into "alleged suspicious behavior" by Martin; writings detailing the suspicious behavior; records showing Sachs was "tasked with conducting the investigation;" and the 2006 letter provided by Williams.
Links to court documents filed by both sides are available by visiting the On Assignment blog online.
Do you think the court should review the documents being withheld to determine whether or not they should be released?