April 9, 2014: Sandra Lyon, at left, superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, may become a "hero for exasperated teachers...a watershed moment for teachers who take a stand against defiant students," as writer Robin Abcarian noted in the Los Angeles Times.
What happened: last Friday morning, Blair Moore, 18, a student in the science classroom of teacher Mark Black, 60, pushed Black -- and the teacher, who is also the school's wrestling coach (and a competitive wrestler) subdued the attackin student with a series of sefensive wrestling moves. The incident was captured on several cell phones.
The Santa Monica police soon arrested two people: Moore, and a fellow 16-year-old student (who bystanders say also attacked the teacher outside after the video recordings end). Moore was charged with suspicion of threatening a school official, battery against a school employee, possession of a weapon [box cutter] on a school campus and possession of marijuana on school grounds.
Yesterday, in Santa Monica Superior Court, according to CBS TV, Moore pleaded not guilty to two counts of threatening a public school official, one count of possession of a box cutter on school grounds, one count of possession of less than 28.5 grams of marijuana on school grounds, and one count of force or violence against a school employee in retaliation for an act performed in the course of his or her duties—all misdemeanors. He was released on his own recognizance and has a second court date in two weeks.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Lyon saw the videos and placed the teacher on administrative leave. Later that day, as reported by Mark Stevens in the Los Angeles Times, Lyon wrote an email saying that she found the videos "utterly alarming...Based on … what I have viewed, the kind of physical restraint used by the teacher is unacceptable...I have placed the teacher on leave pending the outcome of an independent investigation.” Lyon said the district had been in contact with the student’s family and pledged to “work with them to offer the support that they may need.”
By Saturday, after a flood of outrage from teachers, students, and community members, Lyon apologized for her rush to judgment. As Abcarian reported:
...Acknowledging the “great anger” her statement had unleashed, Lyon said she understood the concern that she had pre-judged [the teacher] before she had investigated, and that she failed to address the conduct of “one or more” students involved in the altercation.
“I apologize that my comments focused solely on the message that teachers should not physically engage when disciplining or intervening without underscoring that we need to obtain all the details leading up to this situation before we reach conclusions,” Lyon wrote...
That didn’t do much to placate Black’s supporters.
By [this morning] the Facebook page “We Support Coach Black of Samohi” had garnered more than 20,310 “likes.” (That’s more than [20%] of the population of the city of Santa Monica, and more than [six] times the number of students at the school.)...
What caused the altercation? Students told reporter Matt Stevens:
...the student kept stepping out of the classroom into the hallway with marijuana, and ...Black had asked him three times to knock it off. After the third time, this person said, the coach told the student he was calling security, prompting the student to push Black. At some point, the coach was wounded by something sharp. After the video ends, this person also said, the coach was attacked by a second student.
A few comments from Facebook:
...Coach Black, I carefully watched the unfortunate video incident. I too am a wrestler and judoka for over 40 years. I observed how you never threw a strike, but rather controlled the kid's arms, took him down and restrained him on the ground. People with my background recognize "defensive tactics" when we see it. Amazing skill and remarkable self-control...
...let's stick to the facts, 1.) he was doing his job 2.) was assaulted by an adult student 3.) defended himself and detained the student with reasonable force 4.) was slandered by the Superintendent .....