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Santa Monica teacher who scuffled with student to be 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 following spring break.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District launched an independent 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 released 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.

Lyon has emphasized that the district followed its standard practice when it placed Black on leave immediately after the incident came to light. Since the altercation occurred on the Friday prior to spring break, Black has not missed any workdays, officials said.

"I want to make it very clear that Mark Black was not fired or suspended from his job," Lyon said, "he was simply placed on leave with pay during the investigation.”

Blair Moore, an 18-year-old student, pleaded not guilty to multiple misdemeanor charges last week in connection with the fight, including two counts of threatening a public school official, one count of possession of a box cutter on school grounds and one count of possessing marijuana on school grounds, Santa Monica Police Sgt. Jay Moroso said in a statement.

The student was also charged with a single count of “force or violence against a school employee in retaliation for an act performed in the course of his or her duties,” police said.

In a statement hours after the incident occurred Lyon called video clips of the fight “utterly alarming” and the teacher’s use of physical restraint “unacceptable." She then announced that she had placed the teacher on leave and pledged support to the student’s family.

But Lyon’s comments outraged some parents, who fiercely defended Black and praised him for intervening. The superintendent later apologized and told The Times she “could have done a better job choosing [her] words.”

Thousands of people liked a “We Support Coach Black of Samohi” Facebook page and signed a Change.org petition calling for Black's reinstatement.

Friday’s statement said that Lyon has called for “two major policy review efforts,” which will begin “immediately.”

“First, a committee of district and site leaders will review and make recommendations for training to clearly define and communicate the policies, procedures and protocols relating to noncompliant students to ensure that staff and students know what to do to prevent an altercation from occurring and what to do when an altercation is already underway,” the statement said.

“Second, Samohi principal Eva Mayoral will convene a select panel of employees, administrators, parents and students to discuss the issues and assertions that emerged as a result of this incident.”

The statement said the district would continue to adhere to its policy of “not publicly discussing the details of personnel matters.”

Lyon said Santa Monica police have also asked officials not to discuss details of the incident, “so as not to jeopardize their own ongoing investigation.”

One school board member previously told The Times that the incident arose from a conflict over drug use and that other staffers were also injured trying to break up the melee.

“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.

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matt.stevens@latimes.com

Twitter: @MattStevensLAT

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