SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — Campus police pepper-sprayed as many as 30 demonstrators after Santa Monica College students angry over a plan to offer high-priced courses tried to push their way into a trustees meeting Tuesday evening, authorities said.
Raw video posted on the Internet showed students chanting "Let us in, let us in" and "No cuts, no fees, education should be free."
Marioly Gomez, 21, said she was standing in a hallway outside the meeting with several hundred other students who wanted to get into the meeting.
"I got pepper-sprayed without warning," she said.
Santa Monica College spokesman Bruce Smith said he believed it was the first time pepper spray had been used to subdue students on campus.
"It was the judgment of police that the crowd was getting out of hand and it was a safety issue," he said.
Firefighters were called to the campus at about 7:20 p.m. Five people were evaluated at the scene and two were taken to a hospital, Santa Monica Fire Department Capt. Judah Mitchell said. Their conditions were not known, but the injuries were not believed to be serious, Mitchell said.
Gomez returned from the hospital wearing a paper hospital garment and gauze booties because her clothes had been contaminated with pepper spray.
Students have been upset over a new plan that involves the formation of a nonprofit foundation which would offer core courses for about $600 each, or about $200 per unit — about four times the current price. The program is designed to cope with rising student demand as state funds dwindle.
The move has raised questions about whether it would create two tiers of students in a system designed to make education accessible to everyone and whether it's even legal under state education law.
Community colleges statewide have lost $809 million in state funding over the past three years, causing schools to turn away about 200,000 students and drastically cut the number of classes offered.