Santa Monica's school superintendent has apologized for comments she made after placing a popular science teacher on leave for getting into a physical altercation with a student.
In a statement sent to the “community” over the weekend, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Sandra Lyon acknowledged that her remarks about the teacher and wrestling coach have “caused great anger.”
“There is concern that my statement reflected a pre-judgment of the teacher’s conduct prior to completion of an investigation,” she said. “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 …”
The incident took place Friday in a Santa Monica High School classroom, according to a statement sent to parents, students and staff by Lyon.
A cellphone video of the incident shows the teacher, Mark Black, wrestling with an unidentified student, grabbing him by the thigh before crashing into desks and eventually pinning the student to the floor.
Hours after the incident, Lyon released a statement calling the video clips shot on cellphones “utterly alarming” and the teacher’s use of physical restraint “unacceptable."
The superintendent said she placed the teacher on leave and pledged support to the student’s family.
Lyon’s comments raised the ire of parents, some of whom fiercely defended Black and praised him for intervening.
Close to 10,000 people liked a “We Support Coach Black of Samohi” Facebook page that was created soon after the incident. A Change.org petition calling for Black's reinstatement also has more than 3,500 signatures.
In her statement Saturday, Lyon said she is “committed to a thorough and independent investigation of what transpired at [Santa Monica High School] on Friday that fully respects the rights of all involved, including teachers and students.”
But she also defended her action, 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.”
Lyon has not returned multiple phone messages seeking comment. Black did not 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.”