Screencap from the trailer for The Substitute (1996), via IMDB
There’s a story getting hyped up on local news in LA about a teacher kicking his student’s arse on Friday in Santa Monica. Apparently, this anonymous student got caught with some weed by his teacher, Mark Black, and the student didn't want to go quietly.
Words were exchanged. Then the student got confrontational, and another student started taking cell-phone video just before it turned into a brawl.
The video starts with the kid pushing Black down onto a desk. Black isn’t taking any shit. He recovers, and they grapple, with Black trying to get a hold of the kid. The kid tries hard to get away, but Black grabs him by a leg. There’s more of a struggle as Black pulls him to the ground; then he just holds him there while the student pleads with another student to not post the video. At the end, it sounds like some of the onlookers are off screen getting security.
Two students have been arrested. The one in the video, a 16-year-old, is still anonymous. The other, Blair Moore, is 18 and was arrested "on suspicion of threatening a school official, battery against a school employee, being in possession of a weapon – a box cutter – and possession of marijuana." Today, both students pleaded not guilty.
The student with the camera phone – who needs to learn to hold it sideways – did post the video to YouTube.
Santa Monica's school superintendent, Sandra Lyon, immediately suspended the teacher and, in a strongly worded letter to parents, called Black’s behaviour “alarming” and “unacceptable.” But she's had to change her story twice since then. Parents felt that the kids in the background sound like they’re on Black’s side, and it doesn't look like Black is throwing any punches. Now thousands of people are liking a Facebook page called “We Support Coach Black of Samohi.”
So cue a states wide "national conversation” about when teachers can physically hit, shove, or restrain students. Our collective understanding has been for a while that teachers are never allowed to lay a hand on any student for any reason, but I know that's not completely true, because one of these incidents is deeply embedded in my family history.
You see, when my mum was pregnant with me, she worked at a school for the deaf as a special-education teacher. What I mean here isn’t that they needed special education because they were deaf. They were deaf and also in a special class that included "emotionally disturbed" students.
One day in class, maybe one of those fun days when the kids get overstimulated, this one emotionally disturbed student decided it would be funny to point at my mum’s pregnant belly and make the sign for “baby” followed by the sign for “kill,” then “Baby, kill, baby, kill.” He'd had a pattern of making threats like this. But this time, he hunched over, pretended to be a bull, and charged toward my mom, right at the foetus version me.
Screencap from Facebook
So what would you do? Would you wait to see if he really has it in him to charge your pregnant belly, or would you shove him away? I don't know if a charging student's outstretched finger "horns" are enough to terminate a pregnancy, but personally, I'm glad my mum shoved him away.
Actually, the shove hit him hard enough to send him to the floor – uninjured, but he was knocked on his arse. And by a teacher! He ran to the office to tell on her.
Corporal punishment wouldn’t be legally banned in California until two years later, but it was unfashionable at the time, and a violation of school policy. Knowing this, my mum went to her boss, the principal, and explained what had happened. Was she hurt? No. Had he successfully attacked her? Not exactly, but he had made an earnest attempt.
The principal made a call: What my mum did was deemed OK. No paperwork was filed, and camera phones wouldn't exist for another 20 years.
For my whole life, this story has been part of my family lore, and I'm glad it doesn't end with my mum losing her job. Still, she hesitated when I asked her if I could write this, because I guess, even though 30 years have passed, that student could be out there holding a grudge.
Even though this story is part of the founding myth of my existence, and my point of view may be skewed by the fact that I was born because someone shoved a student, in my opinion teachers should still have it hammered into their heads that you never touch a student, or else shun, shun, shun! Lawsuit, lawsuit, lawsuit!
I think the worst thing for this issue would be if Black were fired or charged with a crime. The right wing would go ballistic, and start wailing on talk radio about drug-addled hooligans in schools, wearing hoodies, as if they don't already do that. I don't think that means we should change the rules, and I certainly don't want to end up letting teachers put their 9mm's next to their apples. I just think we should all look the other way when the situation calls for it.
Black's case is an extreme, fringe example, like the one with my mum. In both cases, for one reason or another, the students blasted way past normal misbehaviour and cranked it up to 11. I like to think that doesn't happen very often, but when it does, all bets are off. Black looks like he behaved reasonably, and I think my mom behaved reasonably too. But they both broke rules that are there to prevent teachers from assaulting students. We definitely need those rules to not change.
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