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30 people pepper-sprayed at Santa Monica College course fees protest

Up to 30 people were pepper-sprayed Tuesday by police after students tried to storm a Santa Monica College trustee board meeting in protest over proposed higher course fees. KNBC-TV's Robert Kovacik reports.

Up to 30 people were pepper-sprayed by police after students tried to storm a Santa Monica College trustee board meeting in protest over proposed higher course fees.

A handful of protesters suffered minor injuries as campus police tried to prevent dozens of students chanting, "Let us in, let us in" and "No cuts, no fees, education should be free," from disrupting the meeting during a public comment period, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Capt. Judah Mitchell of the Santa Monica Fire Department told NBC News that up to 30 people had been sprayed, five of whom sought treatment for the effects of the spray and were transported to nearby hospitals.

Priscillia Omon, 21, claimed a police officer fired the spray into the mouths and eyes of people standing arm's length away, NBC Los Angeles reported. She said a family, including a 4 year old, were in the crowd when the officer used the pepper spray.

PhotoBlog: Cops pepper-spray 30 as Santa Monica students protest fees

"They were trying to silence our voices by not allowing students access to this supposedly open forum," Omon told the station.

However, Mitchell said a mother and young child were not among those treated for the effects of pepper spray.

'Students care about their education'
The meeting was slated to discuss a controversial tiered payment program, which has drawn the ire of students and professors claiming that the plan would make in-demand summer classes -- such as English, math, history and biology -- more expensive.

NBC Los Angeles said some courses would rise from $46 per unit to $180 during the summer session, meaning a high-demand 3-unit course would cost about $540.

"The students wanted to be heard and we wanted to be in the room where we could fairly discuss this topic, and be seen by them," said Aura Chavez, 18, who was standing in the back of the crowd when the pepper spray incident happened. "We wanted to let them see how many students care about their education."

Bruce Smith, spokesman for Santa Monica College, said the school had set up an overflow room with an audio visual feed so students could take part in the meeting, but a fairly large group of students showed up in the corridor and demanded to go into the meeting room.

He added that the college and Santa Monica College Police Department will be investigating the incident.

Samantha Tata and Robert Kovacik of NBC Los Angeles and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

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