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Parents defend Santa Monica teacher who fought with student

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Parents of several Santa Monica High School students are coming to the defense of a teacher who was placed on leave Friday after he was recorded on video in a physical altercation with a student.

The incident took place in a classroom at the school and was videorecorded on mutiple mobile phones, according to a statement sent to parents, students and staff by Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Sandra Lyon.

One recording shows Mark Black, a science teacher and wrestling coach, involved in a physical confrontation with an unidentified student. The recording obtained by KTLA-TV shows Black wrestling with the student and grabbing him by the thigh before crashing into desks and eventually pinning the student to the floor.

In a statement, Lyon called the incident “utterly alarming.”

“Based on … what I have viewed, the kind of physical restraint used by the teacher is unacceptable," she wrote. "I have placed the teacher on leave pending the outcome of an independent investigation.”

Lyon said the district had been in contact with the student’s family and pledged to “work with them to offer the support that they may need.”

Black did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment.

District school board member Oscar de la Torre said Saturday that the incident arose from a conflict over drug use. In letters to Lyon and in television news interviews, parents and students made similar statements.

De la Torre said the incident raised questions about district policies on when and how a staff member can or should intervene. He said the incident also points to a larger “drug problem” on campus that “we need to address.”

“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.”

The tone of Lyon’s note also angered a number of parents who quickly voiced their support of Black, a longtime teacher and coach. De la Torre said letters to the board “overwhelmingly supported the teacher’s action.”

More than 2,000 people have liked a “We Support Coach Black of Samohi” Facebook page that was created hours ago.

Lyon did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment, but in a note to the school board she acknowledged that “many teachers at Samohi were upset with my earlier message, as many, even those involved in the end of the incident, had not seen what transpired prior to that.”

In a letter to a longtime teacher who had inquired about the incident, she said, “I am sorry if my earlier message disappointed Samohi staff. It was based on a video that had been presented to me. Clearly, this video information is only a piece of this story and many people only have seen or heard a part of the story;  I can assure that any future action will be based on the full investigation.”  

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matt.stevens@latimes.com

Twitter: @MattStevensLAT

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