Days after Deyshia Hargrave, a Louisiana middle-school teacher, was removed from a school board meeting in handcuffs after asking questions about the superintendent’s salary raise, Hargrave urged educators, parents, and students across the U.S. to go to school board meetings, ask questions, and “be vocal.”
“I was always taught that what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong, and if you see something you should speak up,” says Hargrave, in a video shared by the Louisiana Association of Educators.
“I chose to speak out. I hope you choose to speak out,” says Hargrave. “Don’t let what happened to me be an intimidation to you. You let it become your strength, because it’s slowly becoming mine.”
Hundreds of educators, parents, and students have worn black in support of Hargrave, and stood with her in Abbeville, La., in a #TeachersVoice rally. Many, many more have signed onto a Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) statement that says, Every educator must be able to speak out without fear or retaliation on the issues that matter to educators, their students, and their communities.
To join them in signing the statement, go to lae.org/standbydeyshia.
“It is every citizen’s right to speak up for their beliefs. Any action that infringes upon this right is unlawful and unacceptable,” said LAE President Debbie Meaux in a statement. LAE also has provided Hargrave with an attorney.
Hargrave was attending a Vermilion Parish School Board meeting on Jan. 8 when the board voted to give a roughly $30,000 pay raise to Superintendent Jerome Puyau, boosting his annual salary to about $140,000.
During a portion of the meeting devoted to public comment, and later when addressed by the superintendent, Hargrave pointed out that Vermilion teachers and education support professionals (ESPs) have not received a raise in more than 10 years, even as their class sizes have grown.
“It’s a sad day to be a teacher in Vermilion Parish,” Hargrave told the board. “We’re doing the work. The students are doing the work. At the top? That’s not where kids learn. It’s in the classroom. And those teachers, like myself, are not getting a dime.”
“Teachers are afraid to speak out,” she told the board. And yet, many of them agree with her feelings, she said, that the superintendent’s raise is a “slap in the face” to teachers and support staff.
In response to her comments, the board chair summoned a school police officer who had been hired for security at the meeting. Hargrave picked up her purse and walked to door, as other audience members protested, saying, “Are you serious?” “This is the most disgraceful thing I’ve seen!” “She was recognized [to speak]!” In the hallway outside the meeting, a 12-minute video of the meeting shows Hargrave pushed to the ground, put in handcuffs, and eventually driven away in the back of a police car. In the days after her arrest, Hargrave and other educators called for the board chair’s resignation; on Jan. 19, he sent a letter to a local newspaper saying he would resign.
The morning after her arrest, Hargrave returned to her classroom and her fifth- and sixth-grade English language arts students. Although she was apprehensive about what they might think about her after seeing the video of her arrest, she says in the video, “when I went back today and saw my students’ faces, they had so much love and gratitude…for what I did.”
Hargrave’s students and their parents know she loves them, she loves her job, and that she is motivated to make sure they have the best possible educators and education. She is not going to stop speaking up for them, she says.
“I want to thank my community, my students, my fellow educators,” says Hargrave. “It was a huge deal that you messaged me, you wore black in support of me, you shared things on social media. You got vocal!
“And that is the most important thing. Please don’t let the conversation end with me. Go to your local school board meeting, speak out, and be vocal.“