Teacher: Board head should resign; marshal ‘needs training’
ABBEVILLE, La. — The Louisiana teacher who was arrested after questioning her superintendent’s pay raise at a school board meeting called Thursday for the board president’s resignation.
Deyshia Hargrave, whose removal in handcuffs sparked internet outrage, made the remarks to The Associated Press before a Thursday rally of her supporters in the city of Abbeville. People around her wore T-shirts with the words: “Stand by Deyshia.”
While Hargrave said Vermilion Parish School Board President Anthony Fontana should resign, she declined to suggest any discipline for Reggie Hilts, the deputy city marshal who handcuffed her on the hallway floor after she left the meeting and marched her out of the building.
“He obviously needs more training,” the middle school English teacher said.
She wouldn’t say whether she plans to sue anyone, but both the American Civil Liberties Union and her teachers’ union is investigating the case.
“By taking away my voice they’ve taken away — or tried to take away — my First Amendment rights to speak,” Hargrave said earlier in a video posted on the Louisiana Association of Educators’ Facebook page.
“Go to your local school board meetings,” Hargrave said. “Speak out. Be vocal.”
The incident: The turmoil followed the board’s 5-3 vote Monday night approving a new 3-year contract raising Puyau’s salary by roughly $30,000, to about $140,000 annually, with incentive targets that could add 3 percent a year.
Video of the meeting shows that Hargrave addressed the superintendent directly after raising her hand to speak and being recognized.
She questioned Puyau’s raise, given that teachers haven’t received an increase in 10 years, despite growing class sizes and other demands.
Fontana then declared that her comment wasn’t “germane” to the vote on the contract, and banged his gavel in an attempt to silence her. According to school board member Kibbie Pillette, Fontana then beckoned off-camera to the officer, who interrupted Hargrave while she was speaking and ordered her out.
“I’m going,” she said, making her way out. The officer followed her into the hallway, where moments later, a camera recorded her on the floor with her hands behind her back, being handcuffed and complaining that the officer had pushed her down.
Asked by the AP on Thursday who’s directly to blame for the incident, Hargrave said “Anthony Fontana.”
Fontana has not returned calls for an interview with the AP but has defended his actions and that of the officer.
Earlier case: Hilts was accused along with another officer of slamming an ailing 62-year-old man’s head onto a concrete slab in 2011. He left the city of Scott’s police force later that year, for unrelated reasons the police chief said. Scott denied using excessive force, and the man’s federal suit was settled in 2016.
Now a local pastor and a resource officer at J.H. Williams Middle School in Vermilion Parish, Hilts hasn’t spoken publicly about Hargrave’s arrest.
“He’s a very good guy, he’s a pastor, respectable citizen here, and is well-respected in the community,” Superintendent Jerome Puyau told the AP. “Students and teachers love him.”
Puyau, who said he began receiving hate mail and threatening phone calls as the video spread on the internet, wouldn’t comment on who ordered the teacher’s removal, but said he’s not happy with how things played out.
“It was not good in any way,” he said. “We are a good community. It took everybody by surprise. I’m having a hard time with this, but we care about our teachers and our support staff.”
In an interview that aired Thursday morning on NBC, Hargrave said she hopes the ordeal prompts others to get more involved in education.
“It’s sad that a woman has to be forcibly, violently removed from a board meeting for people to start caring,” she said in the interview.
“I’m hoping for teachers, people outside of education to have a voice, show up — you don’t have to say anything, just show up.”
Associated Press reporter Kevin McGill contributed to this story from New Orleans.