The incident was captured on video and has triggered a backlash from parents, teachers, students and alumni. Many want him back in the classroom.
Student witnesses say Mark Black, who is also the wrestling coach, tried to confiscate a bag of marijuana and was then stabbed by the student with a pencil. The cellphone video shows Black locking the student's legs and pinning the student to the ground.
"He was the wrestling coach. If he wanted to hurt him, he could have but I think he wasn't trying to hurt him," said student Kylan Townsend. "He just wanted him to stop and he was trying to be a teacher and help, and I don't think it was his fault."
Students and parents are showing their support for Black. A Facebook page supporting "Coach Black" has over 4,700 likes.
In an email to parents, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Sandra Lyon says the teacher's behavior is "utterly alarming."
She placed Black on leave during an independent investigation.
That infuriated many teachers and parents. School Board member Oscar De La Torre says Mr. Black was one of his teachers at Santa Monica High School.
"I know him very well. I know him to be a fair person, a good person, someone who cares deeply about his students," said De La Torre.
De La Torre says the video does not tell the whole story. He says the incident brings to light the issue of drug use, something he says the district needs to address.
"Santa Monica High School is no different that any other high school in our nation; marijuana use is up, you know, it's something that we have to deal with and grabble with as a community," said De La Torre.
Lyon has come under fire from parents for initially saying the kind of physical restraint used by the teacher was unacceptable.
On Saturday, Lyon released the following statement to Eyewitness News: "I want to stress that teachers are at times confronted with difficult, even threatening, situations, and they must make judgment calls to protect safety. 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."
Students hope the situation will have a quick and just resolution.
"I don't know him personally, but I know that he is a great teacher," said student Manaal Ali, "I know that he surely doesn't deserve to get fired for it."
An online petition has also been created by one of Black's former students. The petition has already gained hundreds of signatures.