Another controversy is brewing at the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

This time it concerns student wrestlers and racism at Santa Monica High School.

On May 4, two students on the wrestling team muscled an African-American teammate against a locker and locked him to it. A wrestling practice dummy “posed with a noose” was positioned nearby, according to news reports. The two wrestlers allegedly paraded around shouting, “Slave for sale.”

The incident was reported to administrators that night, but the victim’s mother, Victoria Gray, only found out about it from another parent while at work on May 31. School officials never contacted her. Her son hadn’t told her, possibly not wanting to make a big deal out of it.

It also seems that H-House principal Leslie Wells may have coerced, perhaps inadvertently, the victim into silence by saying, “The incident could get the whole wrestling program canceled.”

Because other parents had been informed, Gray claims administrators deliberately tried to keep the racial harassment of her son as quiet as possible, which is why she was never notified. She has also told the school board that there is no district policy that assures parents will be informed when their children are victims of harassment or bullying.

But, this isn’t the first time actions of SMMUSD administrators have defied common sense, jeopardized both parents and students and invited criminal prosecution and civil liability.

In March, 2006, police were notified by the then Lincoln Middle School principal of a student complaint against teacher Thomas Beltran for “inappropriate touching.” After investigating, police determined there was “insufficient evidence to pursue a case.”

In 2008, additional victims came forward. Beltran was arrested, charged and is currently serving 14 years for numerous felonies involving underage female students from late 2004 through April, 2008 at Lincoln.

News coverage then disclosed there was no mention of the 2006 complaint in Beltran’s SMMUSD file. When Lincoln parents found out, they went ballistic and asked for a comprehensive policy that would keep everyone better informed about criminal or improper incidents in the schools.

Earlier this year, notification problems came to light again with complaints of sexual harassment against Samohi math teacher Ari Marken. He had been suspended from the classroom and investigated by the district internally, twice. Marken was reinstated this last school year.

Concerned parents filed a lawsuit to force the SMMUSD to release information about the investigation. They won. Marken appealed. Parties are awaiting a new court date.

The SMMUSD has serious problems with this latest incident. Terrorizing people with a noose is a criminal offense (California Penal Code, Section 11411) and must be reported. Police were never called by district officials although they had collected student cell phones and deleted photos of the incident, according to news reports. Meanwhile, the two instigators were suspended for just three days each.

Not reporting the crime aside, destroying photos (or evidence) could be viewed as obstruction of justice and lead to criminal prosecution. And, the district could also face litigation for failing to protect the civil rights of its students.

Add this to the SMMUSD’s continual fiscal problems, incoherent policies, cover-ups and other shenanigans and this revelation could generate enough bad press to turn our school district into a national disgrace.

Last round for Saint John’s

Tuesday night, the City Council will review and most likely approve an amendment to a Development Agreement (DA) Saint John’s Health Center has with City Hall. Saint John’s wants to continue a shared parking arrangement with the Yahoo! Center business park more than two blocks away, instead of building a promised garage on campus.

Planning staff and Planning Commissioners alike think this will give them oversight over Saint John’s parking operations and somehow reduce traffic and congestion around the hospital. The “shared parking” concept is straight out of the newly adopted Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE). This may sound reasonable to the Utopian air heads City Hall pays exorbitant consultant fees to, but in reality it puts more parking and traffic problems directly into neighborhoods.

There are numerous flaws with this proposal including the reluctance of visitors and others to use expensive valet parking or to park blocks away from their destination. People will still drive because it’s ultimately more time saving and convenient. They’ll park where its close or cheap rather then use impractical alternatives suggested by the dreamers from Fantasy Land.

Relying on City Hall to monitor the parking situation makes no sense as its record of monitoring DAs, variances and Conditional Use Permits for compliance is abysmal. In this case, City Hall’s reliance on Saint John’s to audit and monitor parking and traffic is kind of like having the fox guard the henhouse.

Another idiotic condition for granting the amendment is the $200,000 “contribution” Saint John’s is expected to make to beautify a Colorado Avenue Expo Light Rail stop. I don’t know who the moron is that came up with this “community benefit” prize, but why extort 200 grand from a hospital for transit use? It’s a top-notch medical facility. Better to provide free health services to needy community members.

This whole thing smells to high heaven. Unless a miracle occurs, the amendment will pass and neighbors will continue to get screwed, developers and their high priced attorneys will celebrate another victory over residents and a majority of council members will remain on the “hot list” for big money campaign contributions courtesy of City Hall’s favorite lobbyist, Kim Karie.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com

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