On January 8, video of a Vermilion Parish School Board meeting sparked outrage and gained national attention after the footage showed middle school teacher Deyshia Hargrave being arrested during the meeting. Hargrave, a former Vermilion Parish Teacher of the Year, was arrested by an Abbeville deputy city marshal providing security for the meeting after she questioned the board’s decision to give Superintendent Jerome Puyau a $30,000 raise.
Video of the incident caused a firestorm on the internet because it appears the Abbeville deputy city marshal used excessive force against Hargrave when he removed her from the meeting. The footage also shows the School Board President Anthony Fontana directing the deputy marshal to remove Mrs. Hargrave, while Superintendent Puyau was addressing her question. The marshal then removed her from the meeting, placed her in handcuffs, and escorted her out of the building. She was booked with resisting an officer and remaining after being forbidden, but the charges were dropped the next day. The school board attorney also said they would not press charges against Mrs. Hargrave.
In a phone interview with WAFB, school board president Anthony Fontana said, “everybody wants to side on the poor little woman who got thrown out.”
In an interview aired on CBS This Morning, an emotional Superintendent Puyau appeared to strike a different tone, saying “I’m the superintendent, I’m to blame. I should have stood up, okay? That’s what you want to hear and it’s the truth, I should have stood up… Let her speak.” In the interview, Puyau also addressed the problems surrounding teacher pay in Vermilion Parish, saying, “Within the next few months we’re going to be bringing to the board a plan where we can bring a raise.”
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards also addressed the incident on his weekly radio address, saying “I know there is going to be an investigation, but that was terribly unfortunate.” He went on to explain that “it should not have happened and it cast a negative light on our state and, you know, it’s very regrettable.”
During the meeting, Hargrave said, “at the top, that’s not where kids learn. It’s in the classrooms,” while pointing out that Vermilion Parish teachers have not received a raise in 10 years. Vermilion Parish, located on the gulf coast of southwestern Louisiana, is currently an A-rated school district. The teachers currently make about $47,000 per year, which is $2,000 less than the state average. The Superintendent of Vermilion Parish Schools currently makes $110,000, approximately $35,000 less than the average salary for Louisiana superintendents.
A rally was held in support of Deyshia Hargrave Thursday afternoon in Abbeville, two days after the incident. There was speculation that teachers would go on strike in Vermilion Parish because of the way Hargrave was treated by the school board, but it now appears that a strike will not occur since Puyau announced that he’s bringing a plan to the school board for teachers to get a pay raise.
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