The Vermilion Parish teacher whose shocking arrest at a School Board meeting triggered widespread outrage was still considering on Friday whether to take legal action.
Deyshia Hargrave's attorney, Brian Blackwell, said via text message on Friday that Hargrave still had not made a decision following the Thursday night School Board meeting, which was the first full board meeting since Hargrave's arrest.
Speaking prior to the Thursday meeting, Blackwell said Hargrave wanted to see how the board handled a number of agenda items, including a vote on rescinding Superintendent Jerome Puyau's contract. Hargrave criticized Puyau at the previous board meeting on Jan. 8 after the board approved the contract, and was arrested after being ordered to leave.
“There are a bunch of things on the agenda for (the Thursday meeting) that may impact how things go from this point forward,” Blackwell said a few hours before the meeting.
The board voted 4-3 not to rescind the superintendent's contract, but it did vote to declare a vacancy left by freshly resigned board president Anthony Fontana — which was another item Blackwell said Hargrave was eyeing. Hargrave demanded Fontana's resignation in the days following her arrest, as video of the incident rocketed around the internet, garnering millions of views in three days.
Fontana announced last week that he would step down, and the board's attorney said Thursday the resignation was effective Tuesday. Fontana's seat on the dais was empty Thursday night.
While Hargrave was still weighing her options, the board continued its quarrelsome ways, despite the newly elected president's plea for cooperation.
“I don’t want to hear ‘they’ and ‘us.’ It’s ‘we’,” said board member Stacy Landry in his first public comments as president. “This is not a divided board.”
That proved untrue, however, as the board considered whether to rescind Superintendent Jerome Puyau’s contract, which it had approved in a 5-3 vote in a special meeting Jan. 8. The motion to rescind failed on a 4-3 vote, although not before tense arguments.
Board member Kibbie Pillette, who moved to rescind the contract, angrily said he hadn’t been allowed to weigh the contract terms until after they were negotiated secretively among Fontana, Puyau and the board’s attorney.
“I never had the opportunity to negotiate. I certainly didn’t have the opportunity to decide what the compensation would be,” Pillette said, his voice rising, prompting Landry to pound the gavel and tell him to stop.
The board's attorney, Woody Woodruff, said versions of the contract had been delivered to board members weeks before the final vote, and urged them not rescind.
“I can’t tell you it’s OK to dishonor a contract that’s been granted and executed,” Woodruff said.
Many Vermilion Parish teachers, who have not received raises in years, have objected to Puyau’s contract because it provides for a raise from $110,000 to $140,000 a year. Hargrave, channeling those concerns, criticized Puyau at the Jan. 8 meeting for accepting the raise.
Puyau had begun to respond to Hargrave but was cut off when Abbeville City Marshal officer Reginald Hilts confronted Hargrave and ordered her to leave. Hargrave complied, but Hilts forcefully handcuffed her as she left, and the teacher was booked on charges the city attorney later declined to prosecute.
Video of the incident garnered millions of views over three chaotic days, during which Hargrave went from outspoken local teacher to international celebrity. Puyau tearfully expressed remorse on national television, saying he should have insisted Hargrave be allowed to speak. Fontana took a different approach: He never apologized, praised the marshal and referred to Hargrave in an interview as a “poor little woman.” On Jan. 12, hundreds of people —some with signs mocking Fontana’s remark — attended a rally in support of Hargrave in downtown Abbeville.
At Thursday's board meeting, Betty Girouard, a retired teacher and former president of the Vermilion Association of Educators, recalled negotiating with board attorney Woodruff during a teacher strike 30 years ago. She cautioned the board that some of the causes of current discontent among the district’s teachers are similar to what existed then.
“I’m very concerned,” Girouard said. “I hate to see where the board and the employees do not get along, and are on different sides.”