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SMMUSD HDQTRS — Students and parents rallied at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting in support of a popular photography teacher who left his class after controversial student photographs were found on a school server.

According to those who spoke during public comment, Allan Barnes, a second-year teacher and professional photographer, never came back to the Santa Monica High School campus after some semi-nude photographs turned up on the school server.

Those photos included images of a male student using his hands to cover the bare breasts of a female student, who was also his girlfriend, said Marianne Borgardt, a parent of a senior in Barnes’ class.

The pictures were taken on campus by students and uploaded to a classroom computer without their teacher’s knowledge, students said.

The photos were discovered after a student art show in December. A photograph of a female student’s exposed back taken by 17-year-old Carina Ramirez was on display.

According to Borgardt, the artwork led a district employee to check the server, which turned up a number of other student photos.

Barnes did not return to class. Students were told by a substitute teacher that he had “back problems” and would be out only a few days, said Julie Gerhardt, a junior in Barnes’ Photo 1 class.

That turned into “he’ll be back next year.”

“The student body was lied to,” Gerhardt said.

According to Borgardt, Barnes tried to turn the incident into a “teachable moment,” telling district officials that he could use it to instruct his students on photography and the law.

Instead, a substitute teacher with little photography experience was put in his place, Gerhardt said.

The class still receives assignments from Barnes through the substitute, but the materials they need to complete the assignments, like a curtained-off darkroom, have been removed.

Parents attempted to intervene with Samohi principal Laurel Fretz prior to the Board of Education meeting, but to no avail.

In a Jan. 24 e-mail to parent June Stoddard, Fretz wrote that the decision in the classroom was final.

“Unfortunately, there is nothing I can share with you regarding this employee’s confidential situation and there is nothing you can tell me that will change the decisions that have been made regarding the class,” Fretz wrote.

The school district would not comment further.

Jeff Dowd, an SMMUSD parent, acknowledged that semi-nude photos appearing on a school server at a time when the issue of child abuse by teachers and priests are high on people’s minds could raise red flags.

What happened was an over reaction culminating in a valuable teacher being taken out of the classroom without due process, he said.

“I can’t see if there had been a true discussion that what happened would have happened with Barnes,” Dowd said.

Barnes was known as an experienced teacher who helped his students merge old and new photographic technologies to create new works of art.

He brought in professionals in the field to speak to his students, and secured them internships with top photographers like Santa Monican Michael Grecco.

Grecco, who also made a presentation to the class, was impressed by Barnes and his students.

“From an outside view, teachers of his caliber and teachers of his quality should be appreciated and shouldn’t be taken for granted,” Grecco said.

In the meantime, students have a hierarchy of goals they hope to accomplish, said Gerhardt.

“First, we want to get Barnes back,” she said. “If we can’t do that, we want to at least save his reputation. If that can’t happen, we want to maintain the photography program at Samo.”

ashley@www.smdp.com

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