Trustees at a Southern California community college reversed course April 5 on a plan to provide classes using a two-tiered fee scale, voting to cancel a summer pilot program after students were pepper-sprayed at a board meeting this week.
Santa Monica College’s board of trustees voted 6-0 to halt implementation of the self-funded contract education program, which would have provided high-demand core courses at about four times the regular price. As a result, about 50 classes scheduled for this summer are now canceled.
The plan gained renewed attention this week after videos were posted online showing dozens of demonstrators struck with pepper spray April 3 as they tried to push their way into a trustees meeting. The issue served as a rallying cry for community college students across the nation who believe they should have a free education.
The trustees had already voted last month in favor of the plan, arguing it was an alternative since state budget cuts didn’t leave funding for any more classes. Some of them said after Friday’s meeting that more input was needed from students and administrators before making a final decision.
“I think Tuesday night was a reminder and was a wake-up call for us as an institution that we needed to have a bigger conversation,” said board chairman Margaret Quinones-Perez, who was the lone dissenting vote at last month’s meeting. “We had to stop and look and see what was going on. Tuesday night did that, unfortunately.”
There was a heavy police presence at the building where Friday’s emergency meeting was held. Several dozen people waited in line to get inside, but there was no violence.
Students were encouraged by the board’s decision but said they’ll wait and see what happens next.
“It’s a small victory,” said Marjohnny Torres-Nativi, 22. “We know they are going to bring this forward again. We’re hopefully all going to work together to find a solution.”
College President Chui Tsang requested that the pilot program be postponed to gather more ideas. California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott had spoken with Tsang and had asked that the plan be put on hold, expressing concerns about its legality.
The school had said its lawyers concluded the plan is legal.
Scott praised Santa Monica College’s decision Friday, saying the board has his “respect and appreciation.”
“Although I disagreed with this proposal, I cannot fault college leaders for searching for new approaches to serve students hungry for the opportunity to receive a college education,” Scott said in a written statement. “Tragically, we as a state have failed to properly fund community colleges, and our economy will suffer as a result.”