SAMOHI — Earlier this month a teacher allegedly reprimanded a student for having pot in the classroom at Santa Monica High School and a fight broke out. A cellphone video, which was widely circulated online and by media outlets, shows the teacher and a student fighting for about a minute.
Details remain murky but the teacher/coach Mark Black was suspended with pay and two students were arrested. Both students were accused by police of battery against a school official and one was accused of possessing marijuana and a razor blade.
Many took to social media to defend Black, calling for his reinstatement in an online petition that currently has more than 150,000 supporters. District officials say an independent investigation is still ongoing and the suspension is not a determination of any wrongdoing.
Some of those posting on social media and speaking out in the community say that drug use is becoming a greater problem at Samohi. This may be true but drug arrests and citations are down at the school in recent years, as is disciplinary action taken by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
Police made 35 drug arrests at Samohi in the first half of the 2010-11 school year alone, according to Daily Press archives. They made 17 arrests for drugs the school year prior, the article said.
There were no drug arrests on the school property in all of 2013 and only one in all of 2012, said Santa Monica Police Department Sgt. Jay Moroso. Eleven citations were issued by police for drug offenses in 2012 and eight were issued in 2013.
Discipline numbers in the district follow a similar trend. In 2011-12 — the first year that data is available — the district suspended or expelled 96 students for drug-related incidents compared to 51 last school year.
Numbers for 2013-14 are not yet publicly available and, said SMMUSD Director of Student Services Mark Kelly, it’s difficult to extrapolate the data in the middle of the year.
“I did run some numbers,” he said. “I think proportionally they’re consistent with past years in terms of the kind of offenses.”
None of the offenses that might be related to the altercation at Samohi — drugs, violence, weapons — are noticeably up this school year, Kelly said.
Still, he said, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the issues themselves are trending downward. New state law and a new approach to discipline is discouraging suspensions and expulsions, particularly on first offenses. One of the theories behind the change is the claim that taking kids out of school is detrimental to their learning and does little to curb the behavior. The new approach involves more discussion of how or why the problem occurred.
“One of the things that we’ve been continuing to work on is utilizing alternative means of correction and we’ll continue to do that,” Kelly said. “We may see fewer suspensions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the behavior is different. It just means we may be responding to it differently.”
Drug use among young people is a concern for school administrators across the country, he said.
“If there’s a concern on campus I would hope people would bring attention to that,” he said. “We certainly want it to be responded to, even if there is just a concern that someone might be in class under the influence, I would hope that would appropriately be dealt with by getting an administrator involved.”
Anecdotally, Kelly said, drug use, which he said comes in peaks and valleys, is consistent in recent years.
Violence and weapons
Despite the student-teacher fight earlier this month, Kelly hasn’t seen a boost in fights or violence this year.
Disciplinary actions for acts of violence in the district dropped from 242 to 222 between 2011-12 and last school year. The number of incidents that resulted in an injury dropped from 88 to 49.
In his time in his current position, Kelly hasn’t heard of an altercation between a teacher and a student turning physical.
In 2012, a Malibu High School student claimed a teacher had slapped her in front of the class. Kelly was principal of the school at the time and was among those named in a lawsuit filed on behalf the student. The suit was settled for an undisclosed amount last year.
Moroso said that only three crimes took place at Samohi between 2011 and 2013 that could be considered violent in nature.
“Two were simple assaults,” he wrote in an e-mail. “One was categorized as a robbery. In looking at the report further, it took place after school while the suspects and victim were walking home and off school grounds. In this instance two students intimidated another into giving them his property (no weapon). This is technically a (strongarm) robbery.”
None of the arrests or citations involved weapons but disciplinary action involving weapons rose in the district between 2011-12 and last school year.
Seventeen students were suspended or expelled last school year for weapons offenses compared to 12 the year before.