The Vermilion Parish School Board president who provoked national outrage after ordering a teacher tossed from a public meeting and later defending her arrest is stepping down.
Anthony Fontana's resignation, announced through a letter Friday to the Abbeville Meridional newspaper, follows the Jan. 8 arrest of teacher Deyshia Hargrave that sparked a furor far outside the Acadiana region.
The Vermilion Parish teacher who was arrested this week after raising questions at a School Board meeting spoke out Wednesday in a video poste…
She was booked after a board meeting in which she criticized Superintendent Jerome Puyau’s new contract. The city prosecutor has declined to take the charges to court.
Video of the Jan. 8 arrest garnered millions of views on social media and was aired on network news programs. Within days, Puyau was on national television expressing regret that Hargrave hadn’t been allowed to finish her remarks at the meeting.
The arrest of a teacher who had just been kicked out of a Vermilion Parish School Board meeting Monday after criticizing a vote to give the su…
Fontana, who served on the board for more than two decades, expressed no remorse and instead seemed to fan the outrage by mockingly referring to Hargrave in an interview as “the poor little woman.”
Hundreds of people showed up at a rally in downtown Abbeville on Jan. 12, some with signs throwing the phrase back at Fontana. “Poor little women vote,” read one.
Hargrave, suddenly famous, demanded Fontana’s resignation but is still deciding whether to take legal action, said Brian Blackwell, an attorney representing her.
The Vermilion Parish teacher who was arrested after she spoke out about teacher pay at a school board meeting says she hopes the ordeal prompt…
“I don’t think the resignation is going to impact her decision in the least,” Blackwell said.
In the letter published by the Abbeville Meridional and its website, Fontana said he'd already announced last year he would not seek re-election in 2018.
The letter does not directly address the uproar over Hargrave's arrest, but Fontana said that "over the course of the last two years many things have occurred that made me think long and hard about resigning my seat."
He wrote that he stayed on because he felt he owed it to the school system "to end the single issue that raised its dirty head on each vote the board took and that was a contract for the superintendent."
Fontana quoted Gen. Douglas MacArthur's statement when he was stepping away from his military career, repeating an old West Point saying that, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”
Two School Board members reached by the Advocate on Friday declined comment on Fontana’s resigration.
“I will make comments in about a week about the whole situation,” said member J.B. Moreno, referring to the board meeting scheduled for Jan. 25.
Board member Chris Hebert declined comment.
Board members Kibbie Pillette, Sara Duplechain and Laura LeBeouf did not return calls Friday afternoon. Contact information for members Chris Gautreaux and Stacy Landry had been removed from the board's website.
Fontana has not replied to numerous interview requests since the arrest, including attempts to reach him again Friday by voicemail and email.
Fontana, an attorney, hasn’t shied away from employing legal threats to silence critics, albeit not always successfully. A defamation suit he filed against LeBeouf was dismissed last month, with 15th Judicial District Court Judge John Trahan ordering Fontana to pay LeBeouf’s attorney fees.
LeBeouf and Duplechain, who are the only two women serving on the board, said in interviews last week that Fontana has fostered an atmosphere of intimidation toward them. Specifically, they said, he has on multiple occasions tolerated men in the audience calling them names in a disruptive manner.
LeBeouf said she walked out of an April meeting when she’d had enough of the comments, and the men who had been making them followed her into the parking lot. One, accusing her of being unprofessional, “got in my face and was pointing his finger,” she said.
“It was two guys sitting together that were making comments and laughing at Ms. Duplechain the whole meeting,” LeBeouf said.
Duplechain recalled LeBeouf walking out in frustration, and said that the men followed her out and started verbally “attacking her.”
LeBeouf said she filed a police report about the incident but that nothing came of it. The officer advised LeBeouf to have Fontana remove the hecklers from the meeting if it happened again, according to the report.
“Not one time did our School Board president grab his gavel, plop it down, say ‘I need order in this meeting’ or anything. He allowed it to continue to go on,” Duplechain said.
The harassment continued during a meeting in August, Duplechain said. She said she approached Fontana afterward and told him she was sick of the comments. Fontana "turned around and raised his hand like he was going to hit me,” she said.
“My husband yelled at him, ‘Don’t you dare,’ ” Duplechain said, explaining her husband started attending the meetings when the harassment picked up. “He got in my husband’s face and basically told him he would put him in jail.”
A Broussard resident, Elisabeth Langlinais, also recalled tangling with Fontana at a board meeting in March 2016 and getting a letter from him afterward warning that she faced a possible 90-day prohibition from attending board meetings.
She said she thought Fontana meant to intimidate her.
“I thought for sure if I went back he would have me arrested, rather than just escorted out,” Langlinais said.
A day after the topic led to a teacher's arrest at a Vermilion Parish School Board meeting, Superintendent Jerome Puyau spoke to The Acadiana …