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La. Teacher Thrown to Ground and Cuffed at School Board Meeting: Follow-Up

February 21, 2018

In January 2018, Vermillion Parish (Louisiana) teacher Deyshia Hargrave was forcefully thrown to the ground and cuffed at a school board meeting. The officer, Reggie Hilts, was sued in 2012 for using excessive force. A few days later, district superintendent Jerome Puyhau publicly admitted that he “should have stood up” for Hargrave– but he didn’t. Instead, he allowed Hargrave to be escorted out of the school board meeting as she was answering an inquiry that he directed toward her. Board president Anthony Fontana signaled Hilts to take action as Hargrave was talking; though Fontana’s intent was unclear, he chose not to intervene even when Hilts applied excessive force.

By way of providing additional follow-up, I asked Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) president, Debbie Meaux, to provide a statement of the impact/consequences of Hargrave’s situation. In her statement, Meaux includes summation of the political dealing that prompted Hargrave to speak in the first place.

From Debbie Meaux:

January 8, 2018, marks one of the darker days in Vermilion Parish. At the order of the School Board President, a local teacher Deyshia Hargrave, was silenced during public comment (a time at the end of the meeting in which the public is able to converse with the superintendent and is under no time limit such as is true when addressing an agenda item during the meeting), asked to leave, escorted out of the room, wrestled to the ground by the security officer, handcuffed, and then arrested, all for having the audacity to confront an issue the board did not want to address.

Ms. Hargrave was questioning the equity of a raise at the central office level for the Superintendent while employees, who had had no permanent salary increase in almost 12 years, received nothing. On top of this, their 13th check was eliminated several years earlier by the school board. It doesn’t end there. School employees’ insurance fund was recently raided by the school board. The superintendent’s raise was a tipping point  for employees whose needs had been ignored for far too long.

While the event may no longer be at the forefront of everyone’s minds, the reality of the wrong committed that night has not lifted from Vermilion Parish School Board politics. In late January, the Board President resigned.

Prior to the January 8th incident, the dynamics of the school board were strained with a 4-4 split amongst the members. Four of the board members were in support of the Superintendent and four members were against. In late November, one of the anti-Superintendent members passed away, leaving an open seat. While many hoped someone from the board member’s family would fill the seat until the special election in March, a supporter of the superintendent was appointed.

Another opportunity to even-up votes on the board arose with the recent resignation of the board president, but that didn’t pan out. While there were five well-qualified contenders, many believe the previous board president influenced the board to appoint his preferred candidate, a superintendent supporter.

Currently, the board is dominated by five pro-superintendent board members, but that split may not hold, as it’s possible the seat may flip in the special election to be held on March 25th. The current appointed member in that seat is being challenged by a much more popular candidate — retired principal and teacher, David Dupuis. Should that happen, the split will again be 4-4.

To complicate matters, a number of sitting pro-superintendent candidates will face opposition from anti-superintendent opponents in the November elections. Though no bet is ever sure in politics, there is a real possibility that the composition and the dynamics of the Vermilion Parish School Board could shift and place its superintendent in a more politically precarious position.

The incident aroused heavy support for Deyshia, whose call to citizens everywhere evolved into a plea to boldly exercise their rights to fully participate in the democratic process. When I asked her what she hoped would be the result of her actions, her answer was simply that people wake up to attend to their civic duty; that they become active participants in the democratic process. She continues to urge people to attend school board meetings so they can be the true guardians of the democratic process.

Because of Deyshia’s courage to speak out, she has shone a spotlight on a dysfunctional school board that was not following its own policies, which include allowing the public to address an agenda item prior to board member comment on the item. Since January 8th, the Vermilion Parish School Board has revamped that procedure and is also currently following the rules regarding public comments at the end of a meeting.

It’s unfortunate that it took an aggressive arrest of a dedicated classroom teacher to force this body of elected officials to follow their rules.

As of this writing, Reggie Hilts continues to be employed as a school officer in Vermillon Parish. He no longer works security at school board meetings.

I have sought an interview with Deyshia Hargrave via but have not yet been successful in communicating with her directly. I wish her the best for the remainder of the 2017-18 school year.

photo (19)  Deyshia Hargrave

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

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2 Comments
  1. In this very strange moment where Trump and many far right legislators are loudly, if shockingly, calling for teachers to be ARMED, I think of this phrase, “…aggressive arrest of a dedicated classroom teacher” and begin to imagine a future intersection between armed teachers, security guards, endless teacher blame, and sitting school board members. It is getting to be beyond surreal.

  2. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Beyond surreal is the new reality. Thanks for the follow-up. I too wish Deyshia Hargrave well.

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