A Santa Monica High School teacher on Saturday was receiving support from several parents and teachers, one day after he was put on leave in the aftermath of a videotaped altercation with a student in a classroom.
Multiple bystanders recorded the physical confrontation between Mark Black, a science teacher and wrestling coach, and the unidentified student.
“I can tell you that what I witnessed on one of those videos is utterly alarming,” Sandra Lyon, superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, wrote in a letter that was sent earlier this week to district parents.
Although neither Black nor the student were seriously injured in the fight, Lyon wrote, “that neither dismisses the severity of this situation nor my commitment to gather all the facts and make sure the proper actions are taken.”
Some students said the altercation was sparked by a conflict over drugs.
“In matters of self-defense, or matters involving harm to other students, I think it’s reasonable for teachers to use physical force to restrain students,” said Oscar De La Torre, an SMMUSD school board member. He said that if Black had wanted to, “he could’ve hurt that student. I call it really restrained intervention on his part.”
A Facebook paged entitled “We Support Coach Black of Samohi” — shorthand for “Santa Monica High” — had received more than 6,000 “likes” as of Saturday night. Dozens of commenters had used the page to express their solidarity with the teacher.
Also on Saturday evening, Lyon released another letter addressed to “Samohi and SMMUSD community,” in which she acknowledged that her previous statement regarding the incident “has caused great anger.”
“There is concern that my statement reflected a pre-judgement of the the teacher’s conduct prior to completion of an investigation,” the superintendent wrote. “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 created those concerns. I apologize that my comments focuses solely on the message that teachers should not physically engage when disciplining students or intervening without underscoring that we need to obtain all the details leading up to this situation before we reach conclusions.”
Lyon went on to say that placing Black on leave pending completion of the investigation “is a matter of standard policy and practice; it in no way prejudices the outcome of the investigation.”
Santa Monica police declined to comment on the incident, other than to say that two students were in custody in connection with the case.