Some Vermilion Parish school officials don’t seem to understand the First Amendment or the purpose of a public meeting. If they did, middle school English teacher Deyshia Hargrave wouldn’t have been ordered out of the room and arrested for asking a simple question Monday night. Ms. Hargrave wanted to know why the board was voting to give the district’s superintendent a pay raise when teachers haven’t gotten an increase in years and class sizes have increased.
That apparently upset School Board President Anthony Fontana. “Stop right now! That’s not germane to what’s on the agenda tonight,” he said on a video recorded by an audience member.
Ms. Hargrave disagreed. “This directly speaks to what you were just voting on,” she said, with people in the crowd backing her up.
That’s when Mr. Fontana called over a school resource officer, who told Ms. Hargrave to leave. After trying to ask about the rules and continue her question, she picked up her purse and began to walk out. The two were briefly out of the view of cameras, and then the video picks up of the teacher on the floor, being handcuffed.
The officer tells her to “stop resisting,” which she denied having done. “I am not, you just pushed me to the floor,” she said. He pulls her down a hallway and outside, as people from the meeting trail them.
Ms. Hargrave was arrested on charges of “remaining after being forbidden” and resisting an officer. But she left the meeting when asked, and there is no evidence she resisted. She is not going to be prosecuted, the prosecutor and city attorney in Abbeville told KATC in Lafayette. Thankfully someone has good sense.
The behavior of the security guard, who is employed by the city marshal’s office, should be investigated. The School Board also ought to take a hard look at how it deals with the public.
Ms. Hargrave was speaking during a public comment period. Her question was pertinent, but even if the board thought it wasn’t, that is no reason to kick her out.
The vote on the superintendent’s salary had been the subject of controversy, so it is no surprise that someone questioned it. The board had been deadlocked for a year on whether to renew Superintendent Jerome Puyau’s contract and give him a raise. After one of the board members opposed to the renewal died, Mr. Fontana made sure the replacement board member was in favor of the contract.
Ms. Hargrave told the board she felt the vote should wait until after an election to choose a replacement, not with the interim member handpicked by Mr. Fontana.
Her comments clearly annoyed Mr. Fontana. He is still maintaining that her question was off point and that the security guard acted properly. He’s wrong about that. He or the superintendent ought to have answered her question.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, whose wife is a former teacher, said Wednesday on his call-in radio show that Ms. Hargrave shouldn’t have been treated the way she was. “I didn’t see anything that warranted that type of action,” he…