SANTA MONICA (CBSLA.com) — Former students gathered Sunday in support of a Santa Monica High School teacher suspended after a physical altercation with a student was caught on camera.
Mark Black was immediately suspended with pay pending an investigation into the fight after a video recording went viral earlier this month.
The decision sparked outrage among supporters who have gathered 130,000 signatures calling for his immediate reinstatement and an apology from the superintendent.
Speaker after speaker praised Black at a rally in Santa Monica Sunday afternoon.
Former student and organizer Tim Conley was among those who said the influence of the teacher and high school wrestling coach changed his life.
“It almost brings me to tears when I think about Mark Black, because without Mark Black I would not have been able to do the many things I have been able to do today. He was the first mentor in my life. He was the first educator who cared and showed me the way,” Conley said.
Black did not attend rally for legal reasons but said in a statement he was humbled and deeply touched by the outpouring of love and support.
Two teens have meanwhile been arrested in connection with the fight.
KCAL9’s Bobby Kaple reported last week witnesses said the incident unfolded because the student was openly holding a bag of marijuana and that when the teacher tried to confiscate it, the student got physical.
Sandra Lyon, the superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, defended her decision in a previous email to KCAL9’s Cristy Fajardo.
“I want to emphasize that placing the teacher who was involved in this incident on leave pending completion of an investigation is a matter of standard policy and practice. It in no way prejudices the outcome of the investigation. No decision has been made, nor will any decision be made, before gathering and reviewing all the information,” she wrote.