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BANG v. MDUSD lawsuit lays out chronology of abuse suspicions, charges, claims and reporting related to Woodside Elementary teacher

By Theresa Harrington
Thursday, October 17th, 2013 at 11:05 am in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

JOSEPH ANDREW MARTIN

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 teacher Joseph Martin’s arrest and the subsequent claims made against the district.

As reported by Times writer Lisa Vorderbrueggen, 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 young male students between 2006 and April 2013. He was arrested in June and is in jail on $10 million bail. He pleaded not guilty in July. If convicted, he 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. The news organization argues in its lawsuit filed in Contra Costa 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 investigative reporter Matthias Gafni’s attempts to get records related to Martin from the district.

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 room alone, with the classroom door locked, according to claims.

In the most recent 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 Child Protective Services or to law enforcement authorities at the time. Instead, the district created new rules for Martin, such as keeping his classroom door open at all times, according to the claim.

Here is the complete lawsuit: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceZU5UbDZYenlsdVE/edit?usp=sharing

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 Dan 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. Trustees Barbara Oaks and Brian Lawrence were elected last November, after pledging to usher in a new era of transparency in the district. They — along with Board President Cheryl Hansen — voted to terminate the previous superintendent’s contract a year early, in part due to mistrust in the district that resulted from secrecy and stonewalling public requests for information.

Further complicating this case is the fact that previous Interim Superintendent Johh Bernard is the father of Jennifer Sachs, who was principal at Woodside Elementary in 2006 and is named in some of the claims. Trustees hired Bernard soon after Martin was placed on a leave of absence. Bernard worked through the end of September, during the time when Martin was arrested and alleged victims began filing claims against the district. He told me that the district would cooperate fully with police and his relationship with Sachs would not affect the investigation.

Newly appointed Superintendent Nellie Meyer, who took the helm Sept. 23, has entered into a contract with Bernard’s employer — Total School Solutions — for nine months of consulting as she transitions into her new role.

Do you believe the district should release documents that it is withholding related to internal complaints about Martin?

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