Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Rally for SM Coach


April 14, 2014

Holding red apples, a crowd of more than 100 parents, teachers and students raised their arms high on Sunday in a salute to Mark Black, santa monica high school's suspended veteran science teacher and wrestling coach, and to besieged teachers everywhere.

The rally in support of Black, who was put on leave 10 days ago after physically tangling with a student carrying drugs in class, was also an implicit rebuke to the school district's superintendent, who appeared to side with an unruly student, rather than a respected educator and coach.

Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Sandra Lyon caused an uproar when she condemned the teacher, describing the incident, which was caught by a student on a cellphone, "utterly alarming" and Black's behavior "unacceptable."

By the time she backtracked a day later, police had arrested the student on suspicion of battery, threatening a school official and possessing contraband on campus, and a Facebook page supporting the coach already had thousands of fans.

"You all have spoken and been heard," said rally emcee Timothy Conley, director of media and communications for USC's Office of Religious Life. Conley wrestled for Samohi before graduating in 1995. "It almost brings me to tears when I think about Mark Black. He was the first mentor in my life, the first educator that cared and showed me the way."

Black did not appear at the rally, though his wife, Cathy, was in the audience. "I am humbled and deeply touched by your presence," he wrote in a note that was read by Conley. "Thank you all from the bottom of my heart."

The student who was in the altercation with Black was neither named nor demonized. In fact, school board member Oscar de la Torre urged forgiveness and compassion.

Still, physically tangling with a student can get expensive. Black has hired a lawyer -- can you blame him? -- and his supporters are trying to raise $10,000 online to offset his legal fees.

De la Torre said he expects the district's investigation to conclude on Tuesday. "Coach Mark Black should be reinstated before school starts up again," he said, alluding to spring break, which ends Sunday. "Not doing so would send the wrong message."


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