ABBEVILLE, LA (WAFB) - The president of the Vermilion Parish School Board is standing behind the decision of a resource officer to remove and arrest a teacher who spoke out during the public comment period of the school board meeting Monday night.
Deyshia Hargrave, an English teacher at Rene Rost Middle School, spoke out against the pay raise for Superintendent Jerome Puyau. KATC-TV reported, the school board voted 5-3 during the meeting to give Puyau a new contract that increased his salary from $110,190 to $140,188.
"A superintendent, or any person in a position of leadership getting any type of raise, I feel like is a slap in the face to all the teachers, cafeteria workers, and other support staff we have," Hargrave told the board during the public comment period of the meeting.
Hargrave reportedly asked the board several questions and was ruled "out of order" by school board president, Anthony Fontana, who tells 9News he had warned her the public comment portion of the meeting was for comments, not questions. After attempting to ask one more question, a city marshal, who also serves as a resource officer, approached Hargrave and began attempting to remove her from the meeting. The marshal handcuffed Hargrave and video shows a brief struggle in the hallway outside the meeting as the educator screamed, demanding to know why she was being arrested.
"What are you doing? Are you kidding me?" Hargrave screamed.
"Stop resisting," the marshal said.
"I am not! You just pushed me to the floor!" Hargrave screamed.
Hargrave was booked into the Abbeville Police Department Monday night on charges of remaining after being forbidden and resisting an officer. She soon bonded out. The Abbeville city prosecutor said he would not file charges against Hargrave because the school board did not want to press charges.
In a phone interview late Tuesday evening, Fontana told WAFB's Scottie Hunter he stands behind the officer's actions, saying he believes the real blame actually falls on the teacher. "This is not about the board, it's about the teacher and everybody wants to side on the poor little woman who got thrown out," said Fontana. "Well she made a choice. She could have walked out and nothing would have happened."
Fontana told KATC-TV he believes the incident was "set up."
"The other four board members, now three, have been committed to getting rid of the superintendent. No matter how good the policy might be, they would be against it to cast disfavor on the superintendent to prevent him from getting a contract," Fontana told the Lafayette TV station. "The whole issue, from day one, was that they were not going to give him a contract."
Fontana told KATC Hargrave was not following the rules of the school board meeting.
"If a teacher has the authority to send a student, who is acting up and she can't control, out of the classroom to the principal's office, under our policy we have the same rules," Fontana said. "We have certain rules: three minute speech, it has to be civilized, it can't get off target, it has to be related to the issue before the board. That's not what was happening last night."
"The marshal did his job. He went over there to settle it down. He couldn't settle it down. She's the one who made the choice to continue speaking," Fontana said. "He was taking her out. He wasn't arresting her. He was escorting her out, telling her don't come back tonight. It escalated out in the hall and she ended up getting arrested. "He did exactly what he was hired to do. He followed the procedures completely. She's the one who made the choices that got her arrested."
The school board president also told KATC that he had to lock down the Vermilion Parish School Board office Tuesday because of death threats. The local police, sheriff's office, and FBI were notified of the threats.
Fontana said he had to lock down the school board office Tuesday because of death threats. He said he had called local police, the sheriff's office and the FBI about the threats.
"I told my staff not to answer the phone unless they knew who it was. My staff was scared to death, because they got a call that a man said he was on his way to the school board office, making threats," Fontana told KATC.
Hargrave was booked into the local police department Monday night and soon bonded out. Ike Funderburk, Abbeville's city attorney and prosecutor said he would not be filing charges against Hargrave because the school board did not want to press any charges against her.
The city prosecutor said the office that arrested Hargrave has been at board meetings over the past several months after board members requested security at the meetings. He told KATC that the marshal "was not acting in any official capacity on behalf of the city of Abbeville" at the time of Hargrave's arrest. KATC reported that the Abbeville City Marshal's Office said there has been no change in the employment for the marshal.
Hargrave issued a statement in a video Wednesday afternoon on the Louisiana Association of Educators' Facebook page. In the video, she told others not to be afraid to speak out against what they think is wrong. She also encouraged other people to get involved in their local communities and attend school board meetings.
A spokesperson for the Louisiana Association of Educators said Hargrave returned to her classroom on Wednesday and did not plan to speak to any local media about the matter until after she appeared on a national network news morning program.