Treatment of Louisiana Teacher Is Just a Literal Version of How All Teachers in the State Are Treated

If you watch the full tape of the part of the meeting of the Vermilion Parish School Board in Abbeville, Louisiana, when middle school teacher Deyshia Hargrave speaks, you see an educator who is passionately concerned about her profession, her peers, and the students in her classroom. Making a point about why the superintendent should be voted a pay raise when the teachers and school staff have not seen a raise in seven years, Hargrave says, "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 of teachers."

Think about that for a second. Essentially, the school gave her 1/3 more work. That's 33% more tests and papers to grade, 33% more children to supervise and work with, 33% more conferences with parents, and so very much more. And for that 33% more work, they gave her not a single damn penny. It's not only unfair; it's shameful, and it harms the kids and the teachers.

So, yeah, when she was called on - and she was called on both times she stood to speak - Hargrave brought up the unfairness of Superintendent Jerome Puyau's salary going from $110,130 to $148,811. That $38,000 bump in pay is around the annual salary of a first-year teacher in Vermilion Paris, where the average for all teachers is $47,000. Most start around $40,000. That's less than $20 an hour.

Hargrave, a Teacher of the Year at her school in 2016, was told by board president Anthony Fontana to stop talking, that her protest (which was respectful the entire time she spoke) was out of order, and that she needed to leave. The others attending the meeting were audibly outraged by Fontana. A city marshal, there for security, walked over to Hargrave and escorted her out. While in the hallway, Hargrave was thrown to the floor by the marshal and handcuffed. As she cried out, wondering why this was happening, the marshal shoved her outside, called for backup, and put her into a police car.

You can watch all of this happen on the video. It's pretty clear that Hargrave's treatment was bullshit, so much so that the Abbeville city prosecutor has declined to press charges and the ACLU has gotten involved. And, of course, the video went viral, becoming a Reddit and Twitter sensation. And, of course, national and international media picked up on it. And, of course, multiple death threats have been made against the school board because that's just the stupid world we live in now.

This happened in the backyard of where my family lives. When I called a friend of mine who is an education professor in that area of Louisiana, he was standing outside a meeting of the teacher's union there, which has little power since Louisiana is one of many verminous, anti-employee right-to-work states. He had taught Hargrave when she was in college, and he remembered her as a solid, enthusiastic student who cares a great deal about her students. In addition to the outrage over the incident, "people are pretty fucking discouraged here" in Vermilion Parish. Louisiana has always treated its teachers like shit, and Hargrave's arrest was just that treatment made literal. "We're no longer just handcuffing you in the classroom," the school board was saying, "we will actually put handcuffs on you."

Fontana was a total asshole about the incident, telling the local paper, "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." Except everyone can see that that is exactly what was happening. And she hadn't spoken for three minutes at all, as Fontana asserted later. He sees it as "a set-up," a way of drawing attention to a superintendent that teachers have disliked since he was hired and whose contract they wanted to see ended.

But board member Sarah Duplechain told the AP, "No reason for anyone to be treated this way. So far in 3 years, only women have been removed from board room meetings." She said this in the meeting and was greeted with grumbles and verbal dismissal. By the way, Duplechain had called the police in April 2017 when Fontana was yelling at her in the parking lot after a meeting, so, you know, comity is in short supply. Another board member, Laura LeBeouf, said, "Women in this parish are not getting the same treatment" as men.

In a video posted today on the Facebook page of the Louisiana Association of Educators, Hargrave said, "I hope you choose to speak out after seeing what happened to me. Don't let it be an intimidation to you." That was something she had said at the meeting, that teachers were afraid to speak up against the school board. It's what happens when teacher tenure is almost impossible to achieve in Vermilion Parish. You need 5 straight years of perfect evaluations from administration. Getting choked up talking about the support she's received, especially from her students, Hargrave continued, "Don't let the conversation end with me. Please. Go to your local school board meetings. Speak out. Be vocal." That engagement on a local level is something we should all be involved in.

The Vermilion Parish school system is probably the best in the area. That's primarily a result of the work of teachers who give a damn, like Deyshia Hargrave. Maybe we should stop treating them as disposable. Maybe we should treat a job that is primarily done by women as the profession it is, needing degrees and training. Maybe we should give a shit about teachers.

Tomorrow, there will be a Stand with Deyshia march in Abbeville after school at Magdalen Square. I hope the place is filled to overflowing. I hope the cops stand down and aren't assholes. And I hope that Anthony Fontana's piggish ears burn so badly that he has to jump in the bayou.