In November 2010, suspected serial child molester and Woodside Elementary School teacher Joseph Martin wrote a note to his fifth-grade student: " ... I love having you at school ... I love your happy personality. You always greet me in a pleasant way ... "
It was the first step, according to a claim filed Friday against the Mt. Diablo school district and six former employees, in the popular teacher's grooming of a Concord family that led to the abuse of two brothers. For more than two years, the teacher manipulated the brothers with Disneyland toys, swim invites, online chats and phone calls, while also befriending their parents, the claim alleges.
Family members claim they would never have been victimized had the district properly gone to authorities with earlier complaints about Martin, including those outlined in a 2006 internal district report.
Martin eventually was arrested and charged with molesting 13 male students dating back to the 2006-07 school year, a total of 125 counts. He pleaded not guilty in July.
The district's interim general counsel, Jayne Williams, said the district will "review and analyze the claim and respond appropriately."
The claim is the second filed against the district involving Martin; a federal civil rights lawsuit was filed earlier this year.
"The wrongful and egregious conduct of the District allowed (and even encouraged) Joseph Martin to wrongfully target, groom, exploit and harm (the family) -- both individually and collectively as a family unit," the claim alleges.
According to the claim, the grooming began in earnest in spring 2011, when Martin began Facebook communications with the boys' mother.
"After learning about her fears, Christian faith and concerns about her own health, Martin started the process of embedding himself as a trusted family friend," according to the claim. That relationship discouraged the sons from telling their mother about the abuse, the claim alleges.
Shortly before the older brother's June 2011 graduation, according to the claim, Martin wrote him, "I want to thank you for always wanting to sit by me and for coming up and giving me random hugs. You made me feel important ... I really did love and care about you (boy's name). I will no longer be your teacher, but always be a true friend."
The letter ends asking the boy, now 14, to keep in touch. Martin provided his home address, two email addresses and a Facebook friend request.
In July 2011, as Martin began dispensing medical advice to the mother, he invited the older brother -- who had now graduated from Woodside -- to his house to go swimming. Martin had the boy change into swim trunks in his upstairs bathroom, the claim alleges, and the family fears he was videotaped.
During the outing, Martin gave the older brother and another invited boy dessert and Disneyland souvenirs before playing with them in his pool, the claim alleges.
By August, the mother was hospitalized; Martin delivered a $40 Subway gift card to her husband. That same month, Martin began chatting with the older brother online. By September, Martin called the boy at his house, asking him to come by his classroom because he missed him.
By 2012, the teacher asked the family to ask the younger brother be placed in his class, but were told not to tell administrators Martin made the suggestion, the claim alleges. The younger boy enrolled in Martin's fifth-grade class in fall 2012.
Soon, by Sept. 25, the boy was awake all night throwing up.
The next morning, his mother emailed Martin: "Last night ... (the younger brother) admitted he was having a major anxiety over something at school." Martin responded within minutes, saying: "I will assure him that (it) is safe to talk to me anytime and I promise him I will not endanger him by doing so. :)"
By March 2013, the younger boy's anxiety had worsened. Martin blamed it on dictation tests and gave the boy special one-on-one sessions, engaging in "touching behaviors" similar to what other accusers have described, the claim alleges. The parents' first awareness of abuse came this past May, when a Concord police detective told them their sons' names had come up during Martin's criminal investigation. The parents were devastated by the idea they were "forced to unwittingly play a role in enabling Martin to manipulate the trust of their children," the claim alleges.
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.