MALIBU CITY HALL – School district officials are correcting issues with emergency response times that occurred during the fight between a student and teacher at Santa Monica High School last month.
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education members met for the first time since the scuffle, which made national headlines thanks to a minute-long cell phone video taken of the incident.
In the video, science teacher Mark Black is seen scuffling with a student before pinning him to the ground and holding him there. Two students were arrested, including 18-year-old Blair Moore who has pleaded not guilty to possession of marijuana and a razorblade, and three other misdemeanor charges. A 16-year-old was arrested and charged with battery against a school official.
The fight reportedly started after Black, who is also the wrestling coach, tried to confiscate marijuana from a student.
Black was placed on paid leave, a move that sparked multiple viral online petitions calling for his reinstatement. He was reinstated before the end of spring break and never missed a school day.
At the start of Thursday’s school board meeting, Board President Maria Leon-Vazquez read a statement on behalf of the board noting that privacy laws would prohibit them from discussing the details of the incident.
Samohi Principal Eva Mayoral briefed the board on improvements that need to be made at the school. One of her “first priority needs” is improving security response times at the school.
After the fight broke out, other teachers entered the room to help but couldn’t find the classroom phone. Administrators, Mayoral said, were all busy working on the new statewide Smarter Balanced make-up tests.
Students ran to the closest security guard, who was posted at the school’s entry gate on Seventh Street and Michigan Avenue.
“That person, rather than leaving that post to go and work on the situation, (made) the first radio transmission,’ Mayoral said.
It was the first radio call about the incident but it got cut off by other unrelated transmissions.
“People didn’t know where to go,” she said. “This was a problem. As people tried to scramble, too many people were on the radio, everyone was talking over each other.”
In response, school officials have developed a “Code Red” call for the radios that effectively means everyone, except those involved with the incident, need to clear the air.
Mayoral also made clear to security officers that they need to leave their posts if there is an ongoing emergency.
“There is no post that anyone guards that is more important than the safety of any of our kids or staff members,” she said.
Mayoral also said all of the data shows that the use of drugs and alcohol in the school is on the decline.
“It begs the question, and it’s a fair question, are they on the decline because you’re just not attending to what you need to attend to?” Mayoral said. “There are no indications of that.”
She said there is “a lot of gray” when it comes to determining whether or not a kid is on drugs.
In recent years, the district has been trying to cut down on suspensions, citing research that shows that they do more harm than good for everyone involved. Mayoral remembers when a fight in school, regardless of circumstances, meant a five-day suspension.
Today, district officials work to understand what actually happened and why it happened, Mayoral said.
“You’ve got a community as whole that doesn’t fully recognize that this is what we’re trying to do; that suspension doesn’t work,” she said. “From their stand point: Kids are out of control because there’s no suspension happening and you’re soft on crime.”
SMMUSD Director of Student Services, Mark Kelly, spoke briefly about what the district is doing to prepare teachers for on-campus conflict.
Crisis prevention and intervention training has been going on at the school for years, he said, but certain strategies will be integrated into the district employees’ annual training.
“It does involve some level of restraint but it’s absolutely as a last resort,” Kelly said. “I would say 99 percent of the training is focused on de-escalation.”