A Louisiana teacher’s arrest at a school board meeting after she protested a pay increase for the superintendent raises “serious constitutional concerns,” the ACLU of Louisiana said.
Deyshia Hargrave, a middle school language arts teacher, was filmed being hauled out of Monday’s Vermillion Parish School Board meeting and handcuffed after speaking against a pay raise for the superintendent during a public comment session. She was booked on charges of resisting an officer and remaining on premises after being forbidden.
“Deyshia Hargrave’s expulsion from a public meeting and subsequent arrest are unacceptable and raise serious constitutional concerns,” Jane Johnson, interim executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said in a statement Tuesday.
“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,” Johnson continued.
The Louisiana Association of Educators identified Hargrave as a member of the teachers union and said its attorney would help defend her.
“It is every citizen’s right to speak up for their beliefs,” the association said in a statement posted to Twitter. “Any action that infringes upon this right is unlawful and unacceptable.”
Abbeville city prosecutor Ike Funderburk, reached by HuffPost on Wednesday, said he will not press the charges in court.
“I reviewed the video, and I have been to hundreds of public meetings, and I did not see where she broke a law,” Funderburk said. “I talked with the school board’s attorney and he indicated to me that they did not want to pursue charges.”
Trouble at Monday’s school board meeting started when board President Anthony Fontana called on Hargrave to speak during a public comment period, but ordered her to be quiet after she expressed concern about Superintendent Jerome Puyau’s new employment contract.
The contract reportedly gives Puyau a $38,000 raise and a car, which Hargrave argued was “a slap in the face” to teachers and other staff.
Fontana told Hargrave her concerns were irrelevant to the meeting agenda, according to the video. With that, a uniformed city marshal approached her and said, “You need to leave, or I’m going to remove you.” Video shows Hargrave leaving the meeting with the officer, and then on the floor outside the room as he handcuffs her.
Fontana, in an interview with KATC, defended the officer’s actions and blamed Hargrave for the trouble.
“He did exactly what he was hired to do. He followed the procedures completely,” Fontana said. “She’s the one who made the choices that got her arrested.”
The Abbeville City Marshal’s Office didn’t respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Fontana described Puyau as the victim, and said some of his fellow board members had organized a “setup” to oust the superintendent.
She’s the one who made the choices that got her arrested.”
School Board President Anthony Fontana
“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 said of his school board adversaries. “The whole issue, from day one, was that they were not going to give him a contract.”
Neither Fontana nor Puyau responded to HuffPost’s requests for comment.
This article has been updated to include the city prosecutor’s comment.