Teacher on Leave for Tackling Alleged Drug Dealer Is Reinstated Thanks to Petition

Teacher on Leave for Tackling Alleged Drug Dealer Is Reinstated Thanks to Petition

Put yourself in the shoes of a high-school teacher. You notice a student that appears to be selling drugs and head over to find out what’s going on and to issue punishment if it’s appropriate. But when you ask the student what he’s doing, he punches you in the face. At this point, you have a choice between allowing the alleged drug dealer to escape—or even continue hitting you—and taking the risk of physically restraining him until he can be taken into custody. In California, Santa Monica High School science teacher and wrestling coach Mark Black was placed in this exact position, and he made his decision. The resulting clip of him wrestling the student to the ground went viral and ultimately led to the teacher being placed on leave until the investigation was conducted. But he found support from a Change.org petition calling attention to the event, offering hope to other teachers who find themselves in a similarly difficult position. 

Stopping In-Class Drug Dealing

The catalyst for the story was a student dealing marijuana in Mark Black’s class. Any teacher, undoubtedly, would be compelled to intervene at the prospect of an addictive substance being sold in his classroom, and particularly one with documented risks for developing teen brains. The fuzzy cell-phone recording didn’t capture the beginning of the incident (a critical piece of information) but reports from students who were at the scene seemed to confirm that the alleged drug-dealer threw the first punch.

The big problem was the teacher’s response, but after being violently attacked it’s not so surprising that Black fell back on his wrestling knowledge to rectify the issue. Although the altercation looked violent, both the video and witnesses at the scene made it clear that Black wasn’t attacking the student, merely trying to restrain him until something further could be done. In fact, the clip ends with the teacher holding the student’s legs as a means of keeping him from attacking or escaping while help arrives. However, out of context, as viral videos often are, the scene could easily be seen as inappropriate behavior on the part of the teacher.

The Superintendent’s Decision: Suspending Mark Black Pending Investigation

After having seen the clip, the superintendent Sandra Lyon described Black’s actions as “unacceptable.” While the investigation was underway, she placed the teacher—who had 30-years of experience as an educator—on suspension and even contacted the police to discuss the possibility of criminal charges. However, many of those present who were aware of the situation didn’t agree with this course of action and argued that Black was merely trying to prevent illegal activity and only used physical restraint when he was left with no other option.

The Petition for Reinstatement

A Change.org petition and related Facebook group were established in support of the teacher. The petition and Facebook group gained support rapidly, undeniably offering some comfort to the teacher and giving the superintendent cause to re-evaluate her position. Lyon admitted that her comments had caused some anger, and “reflected a pre-judgment of the teacher’s conduct prior to the completion of an investigation.”

A former student-athlete of the school created the petition, explaining that, “I am writing this petition on behalf of the many students, parents, teachers, and coaches who have had the distinct pleasure to know, be mentored by, and work with Mark Black.  He is a jewel in the classroom and athletic arenas, to which he has instructed thousands of young men and women.” The petition’s accompanying text drew attention to the fact that the student who attacked Black was arrested on suspicion of threatening a school employee, battery, possession of a weapon (reportedly a box-cutter) and, importantly, possession of marijuana.

Success for the Petition and Reinstatement

In the end, the petition collected over 158,000 signatures from students, parents, fellow teachers and concerned citizens around the country who were disgusted with the district superintendent’s immediate decision to side with the student. With such overwhelming support for the teacher’s behavior and the evidence in favor of his own and his students’ version of events, Black was reinstated to the school later the same month.

A Positive Message for Teachers Concerned about Drug Dealing

There are teachers placed in the same position as Mark Black each day across the country, and his victory is important because it shows that the public will support you if you’re doing the right thing. Mark Black made one decision, and that was to do what he could to prevent illegal substances from being sold in his classroom. If he had lost his job for defending himself after being attacked by the dealer, the message to educators would have been that it probably isn’t worth taking the risk in order to do the right thing. If we want to reduce the amount of drugs in our schools, teachers like Black—who don’t just turn a blind eye to avoid a potential altercation after witnessing illegal activity—need to be celebrated as heroes, not denounced for their subsequent self-defense.

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