The cellphone video from inside a classroom at Santa Monica High School went viral Friday.
It showed Mark Black, a longtime teacher and wrestling coach, 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 Superintendent Sandra Lyon called the incident “utterly alarming” and acted swiftly, placing the teacher on leave pending the outcome of an investigation. In a statement released hours after the fight, she called the teacher’s use of physical restraint “unacceptable" and 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 had flooded Lyon and the school board with letters, castigating the superintendent for pre-judging the popular teacher and fiercely defending Black for what some saw as bravery. Thousands of people liked a “We Support Coach Black of Samohi” Facebook page 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.
"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."
On Monday, Santa Monica police announced the arrest of an 18-year-old and a 16-year-old in connection to the classroom scuffle and said they were seeking battery charges against both students from L.A. prosecutors.
The investigation casts a different light on Black’s physical altercation, which some supporters say was necessary to keep other students safe. One school board member said the incident arose from a conflict over drug use, which raises complicated questions about when and how school staff members 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. “From me knowing Mr. Black personally -- he was a former teacher of mine -- I know him to be a fair person.”