A “Teacher of the Year” award-winning educator in Louisiana was escorted out of a meeting, handcuffed and arrested after she spoke out against a pay raise for her school district’s superintendent.
Deyshia Hargrave, a 32-year-old teacher at Rene Rost Middle School in Kaplan, Louisiana, was taken into custody at the Vermilion Parish School Board meeting Monday night, KATC-TV reports. She was booked on charges of remaining after being forbidden and resisting an officer, but the city attorney has declined to prosecute her, the news station reports. She was arrested by a marshal, Reggie Hilts, who is employed by the school board as a school resource officer.
“I have reviewed the video and I am not going to approve any charges against the teacher,” city attorney Ike Funderburk said. “I talked with the attorney for the school board, and they do not wish to pursue any charges against the teacher.”
Hargrave addressed the school board about a $38,000 pay raise for Superintendent Jerome Puyau, questioning why he was given the raise while teachers haven’t seen a pay increase in years. She was then called upon a second time for comment after the pay raise was approved by the board and began addressing questions to the superintendent, which led school board President Anthony Fontana to have Hargrave taken out of the meeting by an Abbeville city marshal.
Hargrave was then handcuffed in the hallway outside the meeting and taken to the Abbeville City Jail, where she was booked and later posted $900 bail.
Videos of the incident have gone viral and sparked outrage locally and nationwide.
Deyshia Hargrave spoke out on Thursday on NBC’s “Today” show about the incident.
“I just kept thinking, ‘This is really happening. He’s really doing this,’” she told NBC News in an exclusive interview from her home. “It’s sad that a woman has to be forcibly, violently removed from a board meeting for people to start caring.”
Hargrave added, “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. Just do something.”
A rally is planned for Thursday. Hargrave also posted a video speaking about what happened. You can watch that here.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Hargrave Told the School Board She Was Speaking on Behalf of Many Teachers Who Are ‘Scared to Speak Out’ Because of the District’s Power
Deyshia Hargrave stood up to speak out against a controversial 3-year contract extension for Vermilion Parish Superintendent Jerome Puyau during the public comment period prior to the board’s vote at Monday night’s meeting. The school board has been trying to extend Puyau’s contract for several months and has faced opposition from teachers and others in the community, according to Vermilion Today.
“I have a serious issue with a superintendent or any person in a position of leadership getting any type of raise. I feel that it’s a slap in the face to all the teachers, cafeteria workers and any other support staff. We work very hard with very little to maintain the salaries that we have,” Hargrave told the board, a video posted to YouTube by Chris Rosa shows. You can watch the full video above. “As I’ve been teaching the last few years I’ve seen class sizes grow enormously so, I don’t care if the performance targets are met, you’re making our job even more difficult and we are jumping through hoops and we’re continuously, we’re meeting those goals, we’re meeting those goals, while someone in that position of leadership is getting a raise.”
Hargrave added, “it’s a sad, sad day to be a teacher in Vermilion Parish, when we’re supposed to be 4th, 6th, whatever number we are in the state. We’re doing the work, the students are doing the work, at the top, that’s not where kids learn, it’s in the classrooms and those teachers, like myself, are not getting a dime. And that’s unspeakable.”
Hargrave also criticized the board for taking a vote with a member who was appointed, not elected. According to Vermilion Today, school board member JB Moreno was appointed in December 2017 to fill a seat vacated by the death of another board member. Board President Anthony Fontana appointed Moreno instead of the deceased member’s wife, who was nominated by other board members.
“This decision shouldn’t even be made tonight,” Hargrave told the board.
“I feel like I’m speaking on behalf of more than just myself, more than just Kaplan teachers, I’m speaking as a group,” she said. “Many teachers are scared to speak out, with Act 1 and all the power Mr. Puyau now has.”
Hargrave was referencing a package of “educator effectiveness” laws passed by Louisiana authorities in 2012 that, among other things, gave the final authority on personnel decisions to local superintendents and principals.
“Again, I’m going to use the word absurd that we are even considering giving someone a raise when these teachers are working so hard and not getting a dime,” Hargrave told the board.
After the vote was held, Hargrave again addressed the board, this time during a period for “audience concerns for the superintendent.”
Hargrave, addressing the superintendent said, “how are you going to take a raise when … when I first started teaching ELA there were like 20, 21 kids in a class and now there’s 29 kids in a class that we are now having and we have not got raises. How are you going to take that money, because it’s basically taking out of the pockets teachers.”
Fontana then interrupted Hargrave, banging his gavel and saying, “stop right now, that’s not germane to what’s on the agenda.” The crowd erupted with, “yes it is.” Fontana told Hargrave and the audience that the raise issue was not part of the discussion of the superintendent’s contract.
“How are you taking the raise when you’re basically taking from the teachers and employees under you, when we have class sizes that are that big. This directly speaks to what you’ve just voted on,” Hargrave told Fontana.
At that point, Puyau begins speaking to Hargrave, but the Abbeville city marshal, Reggie Hilts, who was working security at the meeting can be seen walking toward her, apparently after Fontana motioned for her to be removed.
2. A Video Shows the Marshal Handcuffing Hargrave as She Screams ‘What Are You Doing?’
A video recorded by KATC-TV, which you can watch above, shows what happened as Hargrave was escorted out of the meeting. The Abbeville city marshal, Reggie Hilts, can be seen on video telling Hargrave to leave, pointing toward the door, while someone in the audience says, “he’s addressing her,” referencing the superintendent, who at that point stopped talking.
“Take your stuff and go,” Hilts says to Hargrave. She continues to speak to the board and the marshal says to her, “You’re going to leave or I’m going to remove you.”
Hilts then grabs Hargrave by the arm and she says to him, “Sir, do not,” before picking up her purse and walking toward the door. Someone in the crowd says, “this is the most disgraceful and distasteful thing I’ve ever seen.”
The video shows Hargrave and other members of the crowd asking why the school board president won’t let the superintendent answer Hargrave’s question. It then cuts to Hargrave in the hallway, being pushed to the ground by Hilts and put into handcuffs as she yells, “what are you doing, what are you doing!”
The marshal pulls Hargrave up to her feet and drags her, while handcuffed, down the hall as she screams, “are you kidding me?” Hilts says, “stop resisting,” and she responds, “I am not, you just pushed me to the floor. Sir, hold on, I am way smaller than you. Are you kidding me?” she says as the marshal leads her outside.
You can watch another angle of her arrest in the video posted by Chris Rosa below. Someone in the crowd can be heard saying, “she’s just put her in handcuffs,” before the chaotic scene in the hallway unfolds to the shock of the crowd:
Rosa’s video shows Hargrave being taken outside as several other members of the crowd follow. Hargrave can be seen talking to Hilts, and expressing shock that she is being arrested for “standing in a hallway.”
Hilts tells her, “I gave you many lawful orders to leave.” Hargrave tells him, “that’s exactly what I was doing,” and he says, “you did not, you did not.”
Hargrave tells him, “I was walking out of the hallway, asking you a question. … You don’t need backup, I’m 5-feet tall, put me in the car if you’re going to put me in the car.”
Another person says they are going to call someone to tell them about the arrest, and the marshal threatens to have that person arrested.
“Somebody else about to get arrested, public intimidation,” Hilts says.
The video ends with Hargrave being put into a police SUV and taken to jail. She was booked on the charges of remaining after being forbidden and resisting an officer, KATC-TV reports.
The school district told reporters Monday night they didn’t want to press charges and city prosecutor Ike Funderburk told KATC that officials called him Tuesday morning to reiterate that, and he later dropped the charges. They were filed based on the complaint of the marshal. It is unclear whether the school board president intended for Hargrave to be arrested, or if he just wanted her taken out of the room. Fontana has not commented.
Resisting arrest is a misdemeanor that carries a potential sentence of up to 6 months in jail, according to Louisiana state law. Remaining after being forbidden is also a misdemanor and is punishable by up to 6 months in jail. Both charges also carry potential fines of up to $500 if convicted.
She was taken to the Abbeville Police Department, but was arrested by a deputy city marshal.
“In response to the numerous requests for the teacher’s booking information, the Abbeville Police Department is cooperating as directed by law,” the department said in a statement to KLFY-TV. “The Abbeville Police Department did not arrest the teacher. Due to the location of her arrest and the arresting agency’s jurisdiction, which includes the city limits of Abbeville, she was booked in and bonded from the local police department.”
Hargrave bonded out Monday night. Funderburk told KATC that the marshal, Reggie Hilts, who arrested Hargrave, “was not acting in any official capacity on behalf of the city of Abbeville.”
Funderburk told the New York Times, “I have been to hundreds of school board meetings and I saw nothing from her conduct that was different from any of the others I have seen. I concluded there was no criminal activity on her part.”
Anthony Fontana, the school board president, said officials handled the situation properly.
He told KATC-TV, “(Hilts) 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.”
Fontana said he has requested security for board meetings over the past several months and Reggie Hilts, who is a city marshal employed by the school board as a school resource officer, has been at the past few meetings.
Fontana told KATC-TV that he thinks it was a 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 news station. “The whole issue, from day one, was that they were not going to give him a contract.”
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. 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. 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 told NBC News he stands by the marshal, despite not seeing what led to the teacher being handcuffed.
In an interview with KLFY-TV he said, “She was interrupting the board meeting. She wouldn’t allow that to happen in a classroom, and now she’s going to pull that stunt. A board member was getting ready to speak when she cut into him. That’s when the officer acted. I think he acted properly.”
“His job is to make sure that we have orderly board meetings. He knows what our policy is and he knows how to handle it,” he said.
Another school board member, Laura LeBeouf, telling NBC News she was “very appalled” by the incident.
“I personally apologize for the Vermilion Parish School Board. This is a sad day for Vermilion Parish. I don’t think it needed to come to the extreme that it came to,” she told NBC News.
Hilts, who is a sergeant with the Abbeville City Marshal’s Office, but works under a contract with the school district, was sued for excessive force in 2011 after a 62-year-old man accused Hilts and another officer of slamming him face-first into a concrete sidewalk during a “false arrest.” The man who brought that lawsuit was trying to tell the officers that a lawn crew hired by the city of Scott, Louisiana, was mowing the wrong property when he was thrown down and arrested, according to the lawsuit. You can read more about the lawsuit and Hilts here.
Debbie Meaux, the president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said in a statement to Heavy that they were notified of the incident shortly after it occurred and their attorney, Brian Blackwell, is working with Hargrave, who is a member of the association.
“As an organization that advocates for the dedicated school employees of Louisiana, we firmly denounce the mistreatment of Ms. Hargrave, a loving parent and dedicated teacher serving the students of Vermilion Parish. It is every citizen’s right to speak up for their beliefs. Any action that infringes upon this right is unlawful and unacceptable,” Meaux said in the statement. “We will continue to support the right of every single school employee to take an interest in, and ultimately stand up for, the best interests of their schools and their students.”
The ACLU of Louisiana also spoke out against the arrest.
“Deyshia Hargrave’s expulsion from a public meeting and subsequent arrest are unacceptable and raise serious constitutional concerns,” the ACLU said in a statement. “The Constitution prohibits the government from punishing or retaliating against people for expressing their views, and the fact that a schoolteacher was arrested at a public meeting of the school board is especially troubling. The ACLU of Louisiana will continue to investigate this incident and defend the constitutional rights of all Louisianans. We urge anyone whose rights have been violated to contact us.”
3. Hargrave, the Mother of a Young Daughter, Is an English Teacher & Works a Second Job in Online Sales
Deyshia Hargrave works at Rene Rost Middle School in Kaplan, Louisiana, as an English/Language arts teacher, according to the school’s website. She is a graduate of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, according to her Linkedin profile.
She won the “Teacher of the Year” award at the school in 2016, according to the school’s website.
“Deyshia’s very outspoken. She’s a great teacher,” school board member Laura LeBeouf told the New York Times. She called the arrest “a disgrace,” telling the Times, “I do believe in the First Amendment, and everyone should be able to go to a school board meeting and express how they feel.”
Hargrave is a “passionate education advocate, and has given her voice for many of those she works with,” according to the school’s write-up of her award. She graduated from Louisiana-Lafayette in 2007 with a degree in political science/pre-law and also earned her teaching certification in secondary social studies education from Louisiana-Lafayette in 2007. She is pursuing her master’s degree in administration.
She is the mother of a young daughter, according to her Facebook page. Along with her teaching job, she works in online sales as a distributor for SeneGence International – LipSense, according to her Facebook page.
Just a day before making her own viral speech, Hargrave shared Oprah’s Golden Globes speech on the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Hargrave wrote on Facebook, “For the girls…. ❤️????❤️????”
Hargrave returned to work Tuesday and is considering taking legal action, KLFY-TV reports.
A school district employee told the Huffington Post, “Everyone is supporting her.” She said that Hargrave had bruises after her arrest. Everyone at this school is distraught and sick about what happened.”
The employee said “that’s a big raise,” of the new salary for the superintendent, one that she says most employees don’t think he deserves. “We’re upset with him for his performance and lack of concern for our school. He’s not a nice guy.”
Stephanie Robichaux, who retired last spring, told the Huffington Post, “The man could have escorted her out, but to put her in handcuffs and arrest the woman, that was absolutely ridiculous. We don’t have money for things that are needed within the school, but they’re able to give him a pay raise? Everyone knew he was getting a pay raise, but they didn’t know how much.”
The new contract also includes a car and performance bonuses.
4. A School Board Member, Who Has Clashed With the Board’s President, Said the Incident Shows ‘the Way Females Are Treated in Vermilion Parish’
The incident at the meeting involving Deyshia Hargrave is the latest in a conflict between school board members that has divided them into two sides. The superintendent, who is supported by the side led by board president Anthony Fontana, has been at the middle of the dispute, along with budget issues.
At the end of Monday night’s school board meeting, one of the board’s members, Laura LeBeouf, who has clashed with Fontana, addressed the incident.
“What happened here tonight shows the way that females are treated in Vermilion Parish,” LeBeouf said, KATC reports. Someone in the crowd can then be heard saying, “terrible, terrible, terrible.”
LeBeouf added, “I have never seen a man removed from this room. I have never.”
Another board member, Sara Duplechain, told The Associated Press, “No reason for anyone to be treated this way. So far in 3 years, only women have been removed from board room meetings.”
The board voted 5-3 in favor of the contract, with LeBeuouf casting one of the votes against. Kibbie Pillette and Duplechain also voted against the new contract. Fontana, Chris Gautreaux, Stacy Landry and Chris Hebert voted in favor.
The board had previously been deadlocked 4-4 in other votes and some members of the board gave him a negative assessment in 2016. Things changed in December after the death of school board member Luddy Herpin, according to Vermilion Today. Herpin had voted with LeBeuouf, Pillette and Duplechain on the superintendent’s contract in November. But after his death, the other faction had a majority and were able to appoint someone who sided with them, JB Moreno, rather than Herpin’s wife, who was nominated by LeBeuouf, according to Vermilion Today.
Puyau had been operating without a contract for a year. The issue of Moreno’s appointment was brought up by Hargrave during Monday night’s meeting. Previously, Fontana told Vermilion Today that the process of finding a replacement board member was political, because the other group was trying to stop Puyau from getting an extension.
Moreno was not known to the other board members except for Hebert, who nominated him, according to Vermilion Today, but told the public he plans to run to hold the seat full time in March. “Mr. Herpin was a good man,” Moreno said at the December meeting. “He was a man of integrity. I don’t mean to hurt the family. It is nothing personal, but I do apologize.”
The issue was discussed at a December meeting:
Tensions were high in the summer, when four members of the board (LeBeuouf, Pillette, Duplechain and Herpin) boycotted two meetings over budget concerns.
“I didn’t want to reach this point, but I have no choice,” Pillette told KADN-TV. “Our backs are up against the wall. If we can’t represent the people in our districts. We soon just get off the board. We soon just abolish the board and let School Board President Anthony Fontana and Vermilion Parish Superintendent Jerome Puyau run the system.”
The board did meet in August, KADN-TV reported.
On August 21, board member Duplechain called police on Fontana after an incident at the school district’s office, according to Vermilion Today. No one was arrested.
Four days later, Fontana sued LeBeuouf, accusing her of sabotaging the board and lying about actions she alleged he took.
“Her actions and/or inactions constitute as Malfeasance in Office,” the suit claimed, according to KADN-TV.
Fontana, an attorney, announced in December that he will not be running for re-election, according to Vermilion Today.
“It’s not about the budget, they want to get rid of the superintendent plain and simple. It’s vengeance and it’s mean spirited,” Fontana told KADN in August during the height of the dispute.
“A significant number of board members that every time there’s anything to do with me, if it’s my contract, if its the budget, they’re against it. It’s not what’s best for kids,” Puyau told KADN in August.
Puyau was hired as the district’s superintendent in 2013. His previous salary was $110,130, which will go up to $148,811, The Daily Advertiser reports. According to the newspaper, citing Louisiana Department of Education statistics, teachers in Vermilion Parish earned an average of $47,041 per year in 2015-16, just below the state average of $48,462. Puyau’s salary will be the 32nd highest out of 69 superintendents in Louisiana.
Puyau told the newspaper he wants to make changes.
“We’re going to be presenting to the board a proposal on how we can increase the salary that we want to provide our teachers, but it’s going to take our community support it,” Puyau said after the meeting. “We have shown that we have taken the right steps. Our schools do very well, and our board agreed that I’m doing a good job. We have that stability, so now we have to move forward and increase the salary for our teachers.”
Puyau has worked for the school system since 1991, spending 15 years as a teacher before becoming supervisor of maintenance in August 2006. According to The Daily Advertiser, the school system has been one of the top-rated in the state during his time, and recently was awarded an “A” grade and an overall score of 106.3, signaling high test scores.
But members of the board and some teachers have criticized his leadership.
“This superintendent is an intimidator,” Pillette told KATC-TV in 2016. “That is his style of leadership.”
Fontana has said those criticisms are politically motivated.
“They have never given a factual basis as to why they don’t like him,” Fontana told KATC last year. “They have never talked about the good things happening in the school system. He gets no credit for anything.”
5. Family, Friends, Fellow Educators, Politicians & Parents Have Rallied to Support Hargrave After Her Arrest
A rally will be held Thursday, January 11, the Vermilion Association of Educators said on Facebook.
“The VAE stands in solidarity with Ms. Deyshia Hargrave. It is every citizen’s right to speak up for their beliefs. Any action that infringes upon this right is unlawful and unacceptable,” the Facebook post said. “We will have a rally on Thursday, January 11th and all educators, parents, and community members are invited to attend. It will take place at Magdalen Square at 3:45. Please join us as we stand together for our educators (teachers and support personnel) and our students!!”
Hargrave has received support on social media from those close to her and people around the world after her arrest went viral, including family members, friends, fellow educators, politicians and parents.
“Deyshia Hargrave, you are my new hero,” Timala Melancon wrote on Facebook. “You spoke with such courage, intellect and poise. I am proud to know you.”
Louisiana State Representative Bob Hensgens wrote on Facebook, “Speech in the face of power!” with a link to the video of Hargrave’s comments and arrest.
Annette Herbert, Hargrave’s aunt, wrote on Facebook that she is “super proud” of her teacher niece.
“These teachers give their heart and soul for these kids every single day! It’s a shame that our school board members are only out for greed and power! Mr Fontana: I hope you can sleep at night knowing the chaos you have caused our Parish and the heart break you are bringing to our children!” she wrote.
Parent Tammy Buford wrote on Facebook, “We appreciate you Deyshia Hargrave for supporting our kids!!! … It is sad to watch someone that is defending the kids and the teachers be treated like she committed a crime! All because they couldn’t answer her !!! Go Deyshia Hargrave!”
Hargrave’s former student, Tyler Bourque, wrote on Facebook:
Naturally, I am extremely upset that human beings are still being treated inhumane for questioning against the grain. However, I am more upset that the Vermillion Parish School Board has allowed for it to fill with toxicity of people who are not educators and think that they know what they are doing when they receive a title. I am proud to say that I have been educated by many who have built their classroom from the ground level up because they have no other choice. I can also say that I am humbled to have been educated by Deyshia Hargrave, by a human being who values students so much for she knows their capabilities. I see you all. We see you all. This can not be tolerated anymore for the sake of the future of our state’s education.
A petition, “I Stand With Deyshia Hargrave” that was posted on Tuesday has received nearly 1,000 signatures.
“She, like other teachers and parents, had concerns about the school board voting to give the superintendent a raise. She made strong and valid points in her comment to the board but was dismissed. Deyshia was standing up for the children and their future. Teachers have not received a raise for all their hard and teaching in years,” the petition’s creator wrote. “What he did was wrong and it NEEDS to be addressed. What kind of a world are we living in where a superintendent has no care for children? A world where the school board votes for something so ridiculous. They arrested Deyshia and contacted the city police and then put her in a patrol unit. The video shows this all happened in front of numerous small children. It’s absolutely disgusting. This security guard needs to be fired at least. The superintendent should answer her questions.”