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Santa Monica High School fight: Teacher fights drug dealing teen, is suspended

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A Santa Monica High School fight between a wrestling teacher and an alleged drug pushing student escalated into a full scale brawl in the classroom, leaving the student suspended (later arrested) and the teacher on administrative leave in yet another thorny issue of classroom violence and teachers’ rights to defend themselves and other students.

According to the Los Angeles Times on April 7, the science teacher and wrestling coach is seen in the cell phone video “swatting at a student with his arms, grabbing the teenager by the thigh, and then crashing into desks and the classroom wall as he tried to execute a takedown. Moments later, [the teacher] had the young man pinned to the ground.”

The teacher was identified as Mark Black, a longtime administrator who is well respected, and witnesses say Black confronted the unidentified African American teenager because he caught him selling marijuana in his classroom.

When Black challenged the teen about his drug pushing, the student punched Black in the face, sparking the altercation which eventually led to the teen being brought down hard on top of classroom desks.

School Superintendent Sandra Lyon commented on the video in a letter sent out to parents over the weekend: “I can tell you that what I witnessed on one of those videos is utterly alarming,” she wrote, adding that neither the student nor the teacher were seriously injured.

Still, she said, “that neither dismisses the severity of this situation nor my commitment to gather all the facts and make sure the proper actions are taken.”

Until the investigation is complete, we will not have all the details that led up to this incident; nevertheless, based on the what I have viewed, the kind of physical restraint used by the teacher is unacceptable. – Superintendent Sandra Lyon

Lyon’s letter met with swift backlash among parents and students who have flocked to the teacher’s side. Superintendent Lyon has since issued an apology.

There is concern that my statement reflected a pre-judgment of the teacher’s conduct prior to completion of an investigation. There is also concern about my failure to address the conduct of one or more students who were involved in the incident. In retrospect, I understand how my statement has created these concerns. I apologize …

Shortly after the incident, a “We Support Coach Black” Facebook page was created, which quickly gained over 10,000 likes. Additionally, a Change.org petition is calling for Black's immediate reinstatement. The petition has over 6,000 signatures; 7,500 are needed for the petition to be presented to Superintendent Lyon and Eva Mayoral, Santa Monica High School’s principal.

Lyon, though apologizing, defended her action of putting Black on leave, saying that “Placing the teacher involved in this incident on leave pending completion of a full investigation is a matter of standard policy and practice; it in no way prejudices the outcome of the investigation.”

District school board member Oscar de la Torre, who was also a former student of Black’s, said the incident raises questions about district policies, and highlights larger issues of classroom violence and when a teacher can, and cannot intervene.

“It’s a huge controversy when teachers put their hands on students,” De la Torre said. “From me knowing Mr. Black personally — he was a former teacher of mine — I know him to be a fair person.”

What are your thoughts? Did this teacher go too far, or are the legal consequences of touching a student, even in self-defense, jeopardizing teachers and their role to protect themselves and others? Sound off below.

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