teacher walkout

Ponchatoula Junior High School employees protested Thursday May 9, 2019 to demand clearer policy on how they should intervene if a fight breaks out on campus, according to a teacher's union.

A state district court judge ruled Monday a Ponchatoula Junior High School coach who was fired after a video showed him pinning a student to the ground will be reinstated.

Arthur “Rusty” Barrilleaux and his colleague Brett Chatelain were fired following an incident in March in which they were filmed holding down a 14-year-old female student and yelling at her after breaking up a fight in the school’s courtyard. The video shows the two teachers trying to pin the girl down on the concrete, with one of the teachers cursing the student as the other teacher drags her by the leg.

The video shared on social media went viral.

Tangipahoa Schools Superintendent Melissa Stilley wrote in an April letter to Barrilleaux that he violated employee conduct policy by using excessive force.

Her reasons for the termination were 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.

Barrilleaux, who taught health and physical education at the Tangipahoa Parish school before his firing, filed an appeal in May requesting his termination be reversed and his employment reinstated. Twenty-first Judicial District Court Judge Brenda Ricks ruled in his favor on Monday.

“The Superintendent's ruling was ‘arbitrary’ and, 'capricious' because there was no substantial evidence to support her ruling,” Ricks wrote in her decision. “She disregarded certain evidence and failed to give other evidence its proper weight.”

Ricks also dismissed concerns over whether Barrilleaux’s actions were racially motivated.

Barrilleaux’s attorney, Tony Clayton, said in an interview Monday the judge’s ruling emphasizes his belief the superintendent acted on “outside political pressure.”

“My view of the evidence is she was getting heat from certain political groups and it was the clearest case of reverse discrimination that I’ve ever seen,” Clayton said. “Just devastated his entire career based on some hocus-pocus decision.”

The 19,000-student school district is nearly 50 percent black and has battled with a desegregation case for 54 years.

In this incident, the student is black and the two teachers are white. Calls to Stilley's office late Monday went unanswered. 

Barrilleaux said in an interview Monday he is “very happy with the decision.”

“I’m just looking forward to getting back hopefully some normality in life,” Barrilleaux said. “It’s just been a long road through this. I’m just looking to focus on the future and see what that holds.”

He added that when his fellow teachers protested his firing back in May, they were recognizing a struggle many teachers face without clear guidelines for how to address student discipline.

The teachers "were kind of in a lose-lose battle when it comes to that,” Barrilleaux said. “They wanted to make a statement that they needed some things in place to know that they’re not going to have the possibility of getting fired if they do their job.”

The ruling states Barrilleaux shall be immediately reinstated in his former position and compensated for his loss of salary and health insurance, among other items.

Email Jacqueline DeRobertis at jderobertis@theadvocate.com