As the uproar continues over how administrators initially responded to a viral cellphone video that showed a popular Santa Monica High School teacher taking down a student in class, Gabrielle Kinslow-Bourget recalls a very different scene.
When her middle child, Al, died of cancer last year, Mark Black -- the longtime teacher and wrestling coach at the center of the current firestorm -- stood by the family’s side.
Black, who was Al’s wrestling coach and mentor, rallied community members for a celebration of Al’s life in the high school wrestling room -- a place Kinslow-Bourget said her son called “a second home.”
Now the coach, who Kinslow-Bourget, a single mother of three, called a “household name,” has been placed on paid administrative leave following a physical altercation with a student inside a classroom.
“It’s just really sad that [the district] quickly condemned Mr. Black without even finding out what was going on from the beginning,” she said. “He was just trying to protect the school ... More teachers and administrators have to step up.”
The cellphone video that captured the incident went viral late last week.
It 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 execute a takedown. Moments later, Black had the young man pinned to the ground.
District Supt. Sandra Lyon initially called the video clips "utterly alarming" and the teacher's use of physical restraint "unacceptable." She pledged that the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District would offer support to the student's family.
But over the weekend, the tide changed.
Irate parents flooded Lyon and school board members with letters, castigating the superintendent for pre-judging the popular teacher and fiercely defending Black, 60, for what some saw as an act of bravery. Thousands of people liked a "We Support Coach Black of Samohi" page on Facebook and signed a Change.org petition calling for the coach's reinstatement.
So Lyon issued a second statement over the weekend, acknowledging that her remarks about Black had "caused great anger" and apologizing to the community.
On Monday, Santa Monica police announced the arrest of an 18-year-old and a 16-year-old in connection with the classroom scuffle and said they would seek battery charges against both students.
One school board member said the incident arose from a conflict over drug use, which raises complicated questions about when and how school staffers should intervene when students pose a threat or break a rule.
"It's a huge controversy when teachers put their hands on students," school board member Oscar de la Torre said. "The school board is committed to conducting a thorough and fair investigation."
Police and jail records identified the 18-year-old as Blair Moore. He is due in court Tuesday for arraignment, and police are asking that he be charged with threatening a school official, possession of a weapon — a box cutter — on a school campus and possession of marijuana on school grounds, in addition to the battery charge.
Police did not identify the 16-year-old.
De la Torre said that other staffers were injured trying to break up the melee and that at least one person had sought medical attention.
Lyon did not return multiple phone messages seeking comment, but in a third statement Monday she defended her decision to place Black on paid administrative leave as "standard procedure." Black did not reply to an email seeking comment.
Darrell Goode, president of the Santa Monica-Venice branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, voiced support for the superintendent's action. He said the recent event was particularly sensitive because of an incident more than a year ago in which an African American wrestler at the school was hazed by white teammates.
"They have security, so I'm not sure why a teacher would need to grab a student under any condition," Goode said. "It's just judgment. You call security and security calls police."
But Mike Johnson, a parent whose son is on the varsity wrestling team, said he knows Black to be a “good, fair man."
“From what I saw of the clip, he seemed to be very restrained and thoughtful while he was defending himself," Johnson said.