One of the two Ponchatoula Junior High School teachers fired for restraining a female student during a fight has filed an appeal requesting his termination be reversed and his employment reinstated. 

Attorneys for Arthur "Rusty" Barrilleaux, who taught health and physical education at the Tangipahoa Parish school before he was fired last month, appealed Monday to the 21st Judicial District Court, calling Tangipahoa Schools Superintendent Melissa Stilley's decision "arbitrary or capricious."

Barrilleaux and Brett Chatelain were both fired after a video surfaced showing the former teachers restraining a girl following a fight in the school's courtyard. The video shows the two teachers trying to pin the girl on the concrete, with one of the teachers cursing the student as the other teacher drags her by the leg. 

Their terminations ignited concerns across the school district about teacher training for violent student behavior and their job security. 

“Mr. Barrilleaux’s intervention prevented injury to Mr. Chatelain, the other students who were present and the adults who were present, and was reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances," the appeal claims. “The allegations contained in the Superintendent’s April 11, 2019 letter are inaccurate, invalid, or misrepresented.”

Stilley, in a letter to the former teacher attached to the appeal, calls Barrilleaux's actions too forceful and out of line with teacher expectations. 

Her recommendation for termination was based on "the physical altercation at Ponchatoula Junior High School in which you exhibited unprofessional behavior, inappropriate comments, repeated threats, and unnecessary excessive force, which are violations of the Tangipahoa Parish School System Employee Conduct Policy," Stilley wrote in an April letter to Barrilleaux. 

Barrilleaux, however, alleges he neither received nor was offered the behavior response training the Tangipahoa Parish School Board has contracted for its teachers, a nationally accredited school-specific system called Handle with Care Behavior Management. The appeal also says the the founder of that program, Bruce Chapman, reviewed the videos from the fight and did not find the teachers' actions concerning.  

Chapman said the two teachers used “a minimal degree of force” that was consistent with a “reasonable person standard.” He did also note that proper training could have helped the teachers use even less force. 

In the appeal, Barrileaux also gives his account of the March 28 fight and aftermath, explaining that students came to his classroom to alert him of the fight between the two girls in the courtyard. When he entered the courtyard he saw Chatelain trying to restrain one of the girls, but her force knocked them both over. 

He saw a number of school employees "standing around and watching" and "not intervening," but he felt he had to help control the situation. 

“Mr. Barrileaux was concerned that Mr. Chatelain and others might be injured … and other students might attempt to (join in) and cause injury to Mr. Chatelain or others," the appeal says. 

The appeal requests that Barrileaux be reinstated, have his duties restored and receive any loss of salary or other emoluments from the initial termination.

Barrilleaux is represented by attorneys Brian Blackwell, James Bullman and Tony Clayton. 

Advocate staff writer Caroline Grueskin contributed to this report. 


Follow Grace Toohey on Twitter, @grace_2e.