An incident at Santa Monica High School recently has made national news. It was the wrestling match between Samohi science teacher/wrestling coach Mark Black and an 18-year-old student. Coach Black won the match with a two-point takedown.
The scuffle took place in Black’s classroom according to news reports after the teacher approached the student who was allegedly selling marijuana.
The student either threw a punch at Black, stabbed him with a pencil and/or pushed him according to various eyewitness accounts. Black grabbed the student, wrestled him to the floor and held him down. Portions of the incident were recorded on student cell phones. Santa Monica Police were called and Blair Roderick Moore from Los Angeles and a 16-year-old, male student from Santa Monica were arrested.
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Superintendent Sandra Lyon was informed about the cell phone video which was already posted on You Tube and being broadcast on local TV newscasts.
Lyon e-mailed parents and staff that same Friday that an unnamed teacher was involved in “a deeply disturbing” and “utterly alarming” incident that resulted in the police being called to campus. Lyon wrote that the teacher used an “unacceptable” kind of physical restraint in a confrontation with a student. She placed Black on paid leave shortly after the incident.
According to the Santa Monica Police Department, Moore was charged with “two counts of threatening a public school official” and “one count of possession of less than 28.5 grams of marijuana on school grounds,” “one count of possession of a box cutter on school grounds,” and “one count of force or violence against a school employee in retaliation for an act performed in the course of his or her duties.” All misdemeanors.
Mark Black is a well-liked teacher and coach. His students, friends and supporters put up a Facebook page and started a Change.org online petition to show support for the popular educator. The “We Support Coach Black” has garnered nearly 20,000 Facebook “likes” while the online petition had 7,000 signatures as of Thursday.
By Saturday, the groundswell of support for Black had caught the superintendent’s attention and she issued another statement. She wrote that some had interpreted her initial statement as prejudging the teacher’s conduct and it didn’t take into account the conduct of students involved.
“I apologize that my comments focused solely on the message that teachers should not physically engage when disciplining or intervening without underscoring that we need to obtain all the details leading up to this situation before we reach conclusions,” she stated.
Lyons has promised “a thorough and independent” investigation of the incident before the end of spring break which is next Monday.
Moore pleaded “not guilty” to his charges and was released on his own recognizance after his arraignment last Tuesday. The 16-year-old (name withheld) was arrested on “suspicion of battery against a school employee” and is awaiting arraignment.
Lyon was wrong in airing an opinion before the facts were out — something that has resulted in calls for her termination. I don’t think her “rush to judgment” is reason to fire her nor do I think that putting Black on administrative leave pending a full investigation was uncalled for.
Putting a teacher or staff member on leave in a situation like this is standard operating procedure in most school systems and I’m betting Black will be welcomed back as a hero next Monday.
Other issues have been raised which I consider to be much more troublesome. Moore was a resident of Los Angeles and attending Samohi, apparently as a permit student although the district has not responded to questions about his student status.
I have no issue with permits being issued to children of school district, City Hall or Santa Monica College employees. It’s well known that hundreds of students here are imported from outside districts for a number of reasons including income from the daily, student remuneration the state of California pays school districts.
Although Moore is considered innocent until proven guilty, it would behoove the school board to set up a screening and evaluation process to make sure that students coming into the school district from Los Angeles or elsewhere on permits are striving to improve their education and not potential trouble-makers.
The SMMUSD has no public relations or public information officer. So when it comes to the press, it’s more a matter of who reporters can find in a timely manner to interview. Normally, this would be the public information officer, superintendent (who in this case issued e-mails) or the president of the Board of Education. However, the present board president, Maria Leon Vazquez, is on record as “not speaking to the press.” How unfortunate.
This would have been a great opportunity for board member Ben Allen, who is running for State Senate, to step to the plate but that didn’t happen, either.
Board member Oscar de la Torre seems to be the “go-to guy” on a lot of community issues as he was on this one. He handled himself well with the media. But, since when did de la Torre become the SMMUSD’s official spokesperson?
Inquiring minds want to know if the next talking head on the six-o-clock news is speaking officially or stating personal opinions on school issues. The school board desperately needs to come up with an official spokesperson — whether it be an administrator or one of their own.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.