ABBEVILLE, La. (AP) — The Louisiana teacher who was ejected from a school board meeting and handcuffed after speaking out about salaries — a video-recorded arrest that sparked outrage — said Wednesday her treatment was appalling and encouraged others to speak out.
The fallout from Deyshia Hargrave’s arrest Monday night was wide-ranging, with school district officials receiving death threats and the governor saying it “cast a negative light” on the state. Video of the arrest was shared widely online.
“By taking away my voice they’ve taken away — or tried to take away — my First Amendment rights to speak,” Hargrave said in a video posted on the Louisiana Association of Educators’ Facebook page . “And I’m appalled at this, and you should be too.”
She expressed gratitude for support from students and parents in Vermilion Parish — about 150 miles west of New Orleans. “Go to your local school board meetings,” Hargrave said. “Speak out. Be vocal.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is married to a teacher and gets support from teacher unions, said he “didn’t see anything that warranted that type of action.”
Superintendent Jerome Puyau said the hate emails and phone calls began pouring in after videos spread.
“I’ve stopped reading them because they’re just so bad and disgusting,” Puyau said, at times struggling to compose himself in an interview with The Associated Press. He said the school system offices went into temporary lockdown, and his daughters had to delete threats on their social media.
The turmoil follows 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 per year.
He said the raise matches what other school officials make in similar jobs.
Hargrave, a middle school English teacher, said she felt like she was representing all teachers in the parish by questioning the raise, at a time when teachers haven’t received an increase in 10 years, despite growing class sizes and other demands.
Video of the meeting shows that Hargrave addressed the superintendent directly after she was asked by a board member to comment on the contract vote.
“How are you going to take that money, because it’s basically taken out of the pockets of teachers?” she said, prompting School Board President Anthony Fontana to bang his gavel.
“Stop right now! That’s not germane to what’s on the agenda tonight,” Fontana declared.
The crowd, now agitated, cried “Yes it is!” and the teacher pressed on, saying “this directly speaks to what you were just voting on.”
At that point, according to school board member Kibbie Pillette, Fontana beckoned to a school resource officer hired by the board, who confronted Hargrave, ordering her to get her things and go.
“I’m going,” she said, making her way out. Moments later — after briefly leaving the view of any cameras — she was on the hallway floor with her hands behind her back, being handcuffed and complaining that the officer was hurting her.
“Stop resisting,” the marshal said, lifting Hargrave to her feet.
“I am not, you just pushed me to the floor,” Hargrave said.
The officer arrested Hargrave on charges of “remaining after being forbidden” and resisting an officer, but she bonded out of the Abbeville jail once her mug shot was taken. Ike Funderburk, the prosecutor and city attorney in Abbeville, told KATC that she won’t be prosecuted.
Puyau said that the school system would not press charges. He said he did not order Hargrave’s removal or arrest, but repeatedly declined to say whether anyone else on the board was responsible for her treatment. While refusing to comment on details, Puyau made clear to that he was unhappy 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.”
Fontana did not return phone messages Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the National Education Association and the American Civil Liberties Union are investigating. The ACLU condemned the arrest as a violation of free speech.
McGill reported from New Orleans.