Abbeville, La. — A Louisiana school superintendent complained of obscenities and death threats directed at himself, his family and staff on Wednesday after a teacher who questioned his pay raise was roughly handcuffed at a school board meeting and taken to jail.
Superintendent Jerome Puyau said the hate emails and phone calls began pouring into the Vermilion Parish School District soon after videos spread of the arrest of teacher Deyshia Hargrave, whose ouster from the meeting and subsequent arrest shocked the audience and prompted outrage online.
“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 in 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 says, and makes 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 says, hustling Hargrave toward an exit after lifting her to her feet.
“I am not, you just pushed me to the floor,” Hargrave responds.
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, and Ike Funderburk, the prosecutor and city attorney in Abbeville, told KATC that she won’t be prosecuted.
Puyau also 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. It “should not have happened,” he acknowledged.
Fontana did not return phone messages seeking comment.
Meanwhile, the incident is being investigated by the National Education Association and the American Civil Liberties Union, which condemned her arrest as a violation of free speech.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, said Wednesday that the teacher’s rough treatment “cast a negative light” on Louisiana and that he “didn’t see anything that warranted that type of action.”
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