SMC — The panel tapped to review Santa Monica College officials’ response to student protests that left three students hospitalized is set to meet in coming weeks to begin assessing what officials could have done differently.

Roughly 30 students were pepper sprayed last Tuesday during protests at a Board of Trustees meeting about a proposal to change the way summer classes are funded at SMC.

Panelists include heavy hitters in the college community, including Campus Counsel Robert Myers, who sued the Los Angeles Police Department for improper use of chemical weapons, and Trustee Nancy Greenstein, a current board member for the ACLU of Southern California and director of police community services at the UCLA Police Department.

Nursing Professor Eve Adler; Dr. Patricia Ramos, who has been involved with the Latina/o Youth Conference in Santa Monica for the last 15 years; and Student Trustee Joshua Scuteri are also on the panel.

The group is charged not just with reviewing the pepper spraying incident, which grabbed national attention and headlines, but all aspects of college officials’ response.

It will not result in one thing that some students present for the pepper spraying are asking for — the removal of campus police officers involved.

“The purpose of the review panel is not to take action against anyone,” Myers said. “We will write a report to [SMC President] Dr. [Chui] Tsang to indicate what we think happened, what the college did right, what it did wrong and what it could do in the future to improve its response to situations like this.”

Panelists will be reviewing video tape, reports other institutions have done as well as police guidelines and campus policies regarding crowd management to see where officials erred in dealing with the situation.

That includes “use of force” manuals written for the Santa Monica College Police Department, which Myers believes includes sections regarding pepper spray, and even specs on the particular kind of pepper spray used on protesters at the April 3 Board of Trustees meeting.

The team will meet in coming weeks to determine its next steps, and hopes to conclude its work by the end of the summer, Myers said.

A similar panel was convened in 2009 after violent protests erupted outside a Board of Regents meeting on the UCLA campus. The regents were considering a 32 percent across-the-board fee increase.

It took over a year for that group to come back with results, which largely pointed to a breakdown in communications and planning between administrators and police officers that could have prevented some of the conflicts that ended with the tazing of several students.

Tsang appointed the panel last Friday at the same meeting that the Board of Trustees voted to cancel 50 classes for the summer session that would have required students to pay the full cost of a class, or approximately four times the normal state-subsidized amount. The classes would have been offered in addition to some 700 others that students could take at the subsidized rate.

SMC officials came up with the plan as a way to offer more classes to students following cuts in funding from the state. Some students have been unable to get into the classes they need to graduate or transfer.

The proposal drew fire from students who called it a privatization of their public education, and Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott warned that it might not be legal.

Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office is reviewing the matter.

Crowds of students and other protesters attended the Board of Trustees meeting to lodge their complaints not only against the self-funded classes, but also at the way in which officials pushed it forward, skipping over committees with student and faculty representation.

The board room was too small to accommodate all of the speakers, who were then directed to an overflow room.

Videos of the night show crowds of protesters yelling and then screaming and trying to flee as the pepper spray was unleashed in the tight confines of a hallway.

Santa Monica College officials have indicated that the college will pick up the tab for medical bills.

The SMC Police Department is also conducting an internal investigation regarding the pepper spraying.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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