A fight between a student and a wrestling coach at Santa Monica High School has triggered concern among some community members who say the same coach previously failed to report an alleged hazing incident in a timely manner.
Parents have swarmed to the defense of Mark Black, a science teacher and wrestling coach who was captured on cellphone video in a physical altercation with a student last week. Black has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation.
But on Tuesday, Darrell Goode, president of the Santa Monica-Venice branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, said news of the fight had rekindled old concerns about a 2011 incident in which an African American student accused teammates of chaining him to a locker.
The student also told police that fellow members of the wrestling team had hung a noose around a brown wrestling dummy and made racially charged remarks.
School administrators and wrestling team officials, including Black, came under fire at the time, Goode said, because the mother of the alleged victim was not notified about the incident for weeks.
The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is on spring break this week, but contacted by email, Supt. Sandra Lyon said she could not immediately comment.
Black has not replied to emails seeking comment.
Goode said the parties involved in the 2011 hazing incident told him they reached a settlement and that staff was provided with training. But Goode also recalled, "We were very upset that the coaching staff did not report it."
Goode said lingering memories of the alleged hazing made some community members "more sensitive" about Friday's classroom altercation. Goode stressed that he considers the two incidents to be separate matters.
"We want an investigation so we're not unfair to anybody," Goode said. "If the investigation shows that the coach initiated by grabbing the kid, that could be a problem."
Since news of the incident broke Friday, support has swelled for Black, a longtime teacher whom parents have defended as fair and kind. Using online social media and signature-gathering platforms, thousands of parents have called for Black's reinstatement.
Several supporters argued that Black was right to intervene and defend the safety of others.
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.
Police and jail records identified the 18-year-old as Blair Moore. Records said he was due in court Tuesday for arraignment, and police said they were 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.
Brent Wright, who was Black's assistant coach at the high school from 2002-2011, said he watched the video clips and believes the 60-year-old was "extremely gentle" when "lowering the student to the ground."
"If you get attacked and you feel like you're being threatened, you're going to defend yourself and you have every right to do so," Wright said. "I don't see how the school board can justify that he did anything wrong."
Wright also called the situation extremely sad, calling Black "one of the most loving and compassionate" people he's ever met.
"I hope that everything blows over," Wright said. "But I worked at that district long enough to realize there's a lot of politics behind decisions made there. What we think should happen and what happens sometimes aren't always the same."