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Students Rally at Superintendent's Office

Police officers escort the marching Santa Monica College students down Pico Boulevard.

About 200 Santa Monica College student protesters rallied outside the superintendent's office Thursday morning with a list of demands following a pepper-spraying incident at a Board of Trustees meeting.

They marched there expecting to interact with either the superintendent or administrators, but none emerged from the office.

Organizer Mikhail Pronilover said he hadn't warned campus administrators that the students would rally at the office. He said because it was a regular workday, he expected officials to be there.

"There are things we could have done better—we're learning as we go," he told the crowd of protesters.

The students want a campus-wide vote on the college's controversial new tuition plan, reduced salaries for administrators, a full investigation of the use of pepper spray on protesting students—the superintendent has already announced an investigation will be conducted—and the firing of the officer who used the pepper spray.

"We want them to commit to stop pursing a two-tier program," Pronilover said.

The students believe the new tuition plan will create a class-based system that will separate wealthier students from poorer students. Under the plan, the school will offer about 50 classes jeopardized under state budget cuts at the college's actual cost of $180 per unit. California residents currently pay about one-third of that thanks to state subsidies.

"What do we want? Results! When do we want it? Now!" the students chanted  as they marched from the main campus at 1900 Pico Blvd. to the superintendent's office at Stewart and Pico. They were escorted by several Santa Monica Police Department motor officers.

Sources tell Patch the Board of Trustees is considering holding an emergency meeting because the chancellor of California's community college system to offer the pricier classes this summer and winter.

About half an hour before the march, the students staged a rally on campus.

During that event, second-year student and Santa Monica resident David Cooper, took the megaphone and spoke in favor of the two-tier proposal. He said the Board of Trustees is doing what's in the best interest of the students, and that the Student Organizing Committee, which planned the rallies, is spreading inaccurate information about the tuition plan.

"I understand your frustrations," Cooper told them. "It's not the educators faults. The fact is we have the same enemy: the enemy [is the state] of California... that fails to make education affordable to all. The simple fact is there's not enough money."

Cooper's comments were met with boos from the audience.

"Aggravators in this group have failed to specify these cuts and these two tier programs only apply to winter and summer sessions," Cooper said.

Between 15-20 officers monitored the events outside the superintendent's office. Opponent's of the tuition plan said that because of the pepper spray incident, their protests have grabbed national attention. Students cheered and shouted "the whole world is watching!"

"Because of what happened, we are now getting our voice out to the entire world," said Harrison Wills, president of SMC's Associated Students, as he stood with other students outside Tsang's office.

During a Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday night, as many as by campus police as they interrupted the meeting.

Loud chants and yells from a group that tried to storm the board meeting room—and the police response—halted the meeting for nearly two hours as the building was evacuated.

Tsang and said the incident is being investigated.

Paramedics treated five students for pepper spray exposure and transported two more to a local hospital, according to Santa Monica Fire Capt. Judah Mitchell.

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