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Santa Monica High teacher placed on leave after tussle is reinstated

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Santa Monica school district officials will reinstate a teacher who was placed on paid administrative leave after video clips showed him locked in a tussle with a student in a classroom.

Mark Black, who was put on leave April 4, will return to his duties at Santa Monica High School on Monday when students come back to campus after spring break.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District launched an investigation after videos shot on cellphones showed Black 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 take the student to the floor.

"Based on what we have learned, it is appropriate to return Mr. Black from paid administrative leave at this time," Supt. Sandra Lyon said in a statement Friday.

The statement said the decision to return the popular teacher and wrestling coach to the classroom was based on "the preliminary findings of an internal investigation," and the district anticipates receiving the investigator's final report by the middle of next week.

Blair Moore, an 18-year-old student, has been charged with multiple misdemeanors in connection with the fight. Prosecutors say he threatened and used force against a public school official and possessed a box cutter and marijuana while on school grounds.

Just hours after the incident, Lyon called video clips of the fight "utterly alarming" and the teacher's use of physical restraint "unacceptable" before announcing that she had placed Black on leave. Her actions outraged some parents, who fiercely defended Black and praised him for intervening.

On Friday, Timothy Conley, a former student of Black who started a Change.org petition calling for his reinstatement, said that more than 150,000 people signed in support.

"Mr. Black has helped so many students over his long career as a teacher and coach, including me," Conley said in a statement. "This was a peaceful movement that I hope sends a message about the positive work that educators like Mr. Black do each and every day."

Lyon has since apologized for her word choice while emphasizing that the district followed its standard practice when it placed Black on leave.

District officials said they have launched "major policy review efforts" involving training and that a discussion of the incident would begin "immediately."

"Through the insights, leadership and collaborative spirit of those in our district, I have no doubt that we will learn from this, making our district an even better place to educate our children," Lyon said.

matt.stevens@latimes.com

Twitter: @MattStevensLAT

Times staff writer Samantha Schaefer contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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