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Teacher handcuffed, arrested after questioning school board about superintendent’s contract.

4311417F-3B2D-4A70-BFEC-350BCA9384A3.pngA teacher asking tough questions of school board members in the Vermilion Parish School District in Louisiana was escorted out of the meeting by a security officer and handcuffed on the floor and arrested, videos of the event show.

Deyshia Hargrave, an English language-arts teacher at Rene Rost Middle School, asked board members Monday night why they were planning to vote to give Superintendent Jerome Puyau a raise when teachers had not had a pay increase in years. The meeting and arrest were videotaped by a crew from KATC-TV, as well as by someone else who was present,

School Board President Anthony Fontana said in an interview that the security officer did nothing wrong. “He was just doing his job,” he said.

Other members of the board and Puyau did not respond to queries about the arrest. Hargrave was at Rene Rost teaching Tuesday, according to a school spokesman, but the school would say nothing else about the case. A spokesman for the local marshal’s office could not be reached for comment.

Hargrave waited to be called on to address the board. When she first spoke, she talked about why she did not want the board to give the superintendent a raise and said this about teachers in the parish, a unit of government similar to a county:

“We work very hard with very little to maintain the salaries that we have. And as I’ve been teaching the last few years I’ve seen class sizes grow enormously. . . . It’s a sad, sad day to be a teacher in Vermilion Parish.”

Her comments about the raise were ruled out of order by Fontana, who said Hargrave could not ask questions and expect answers during the public comment period. While some in the audience took issue with that, she sat down and the meeting went forward.

Hargrave was called upon a second time for comment. Again, she asked board members how they could raise the salary of the superintendent when teachers and students did the work in the classroom, again noting that educators were not getting pay increases.

Then, a security officer from the marshal’s office in Abbeville, La., walked up to Hargrave and asked her to leave repeatedly. They argued and at one point, the officer put his hand on Hargrave’s arm. She pulled back and soon left. The video does not show what happened immediately after the two got into the hallway but she can be seen on the floor, being handcuffed. She was then arrested. According to KATC, she was booked into the city jail on charges that included resisting an officer. She paid bond and left.

According to Fontana, Hargrave had violated rules of the meeting. He said she was arrested because she started a skirmish with the officer in the hallway. Fontana said he had left his seat and gone to the door after Hargrave was led out of the meeting and saw the start of the skirmish, which was not shown on any of the videos.

Puyau told KATC that the school district was not going to press charges against Hargrave and that he told police the same thing, but the teacher was booked anyway. She could be tried on the charges without the cooperation of the school board.

Here’s a video of part of the board meeting leading up to the arrest. It is 12 minutes but worth watching.






Speech Outside of School

Teachers do not forfeit the right to comment publicly on matters of public importance simply because they accept a public school teaching position. Teachers cannot be fired or disciplined for statements about matters of public importance unless it can be demonstrated that the teacher’s speech created a substantial adverse impact on school functioning. A teacher’s off-campus statements regarding the war or participation in an off-campus political demonstration are not acceptable bases for job discipline or termination.

Speech Inside the Classroom

A teacher appears to speak for the school district when he or she teaches, so the district administration has a strong interest in determining the content of the message its teachers will deliver. While courts sometimes protect the academic freedom of college and university professors to pursue novel teaching methods and curriculum, these principles do not apply with equal force to K-12 teachers. It does not violate a teacher’s free speech rights when the district insists, for example, that she teach physics and not political science, or that she not lead students in prayer – even though both have the result of limiting what the teacher says in the classroom.

Washington courts have upheld the authority of school districts to prescribe both course content and teaching methods. Courts in other jurisdictions have ruled that teachers have no free speech rights to include unapproved materials on reading lists.

Although the boundaries are not precise, there are limits to a school district’s ability to control teachers’ controversial speech in the classroom. Courts have sometimes ruled that schools may not punish teachers for uttering particular words or concepts in class that are otherwise consistent with the school curriculum, where the school has no legitimate pedagogical purpose for the restriction, or where the restriction harms students’ ability to receive important ideas that are relevant to the curriculum.

A school district might choose not to include discussion about a controversial issue in its curriculum and direct teachers to avoid the topic unless it arises through student contributions to classroom discussion. Depending on the circumstances, a court might well approve such a rule. This assumes that the school is neutral in its implementation of the rule. If a school permits anti-war lesson plans but forbids pro-war lesson plans, such action would raise questions about viewpoint discrimination.

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