School district backed off from criticisms of Black after an outpouring of support

By Howard Breuer
Updated April 08, 2014 03:40 PM

A Santa Monica High School teacher initially criticized for fighting a student has now been lauded as a hero.

Mark Black’s physical confrontation was caught on camera, and the school district superintendent initially complained, only to change her tune after a huge backlash from students and parents.

Witnesses say Black, a longtime teacher and wrestling coach, confronted a student with drugs and, when the student attacked him, he wrestled the student to the floor. The superintendent has since apologized to the community, and the police have arrested two students, 18 and 16.

The district is holding off on any further criticisms of Black, 60, until they’ve thoroughly investigated last week’s scuffle.

“It’s a huge controversy when teachers put their hands on students,” board member Oscar de la Torre tells the Los Angeles Times. “From me knowing Mr. Black personally – he was a former teacher of mine – I know him to be a fair person. The school board is committed to conducting a thorough and fair investigation.”

Among Black’s supporters are roughly 17,000 people who “liked” a We Support Coach Black of Samohi Facebook page.

“From what I saw, Coach Black quickly restrained an out of control and aggressive student,” one commenter wrote on the Facebook page.

There is also a petition with over 6,000 supporters asking to reinstate Black, who is on paid administrative leave.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the older student, arrested Friday, was due in court Tuesday for arraignment. Both students face battery charges and officials were also considering charges of threatening a school official, possession of a weapon – a box cutter – on a school campus, and possession of marijuana on school grounds.

In an email to the school community sent out Friday, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Sandra Lyon called the incident “deeply disturbing” and “utterly alarming.”

The following day, however, Lyon issued a second statement saying, “I apologize that my comments focused solely on the message that teachers should not physically engage when disciplining students or intervening We need to obtain all the details leading up to this situation before we reach conclusions.”