I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if you don’t know who Deyshia Hargrave is, you might be living under a rock. On Monday, January 8th, Hargrave was in attendance at a Vermilion Parish School Board meeting in Abbeville, LA when she was removed from the meeting and arrested for questioning the reasoning behind giving the superintendent a $38,000 raise when the teachers haven’t had a raise in nearly ten years. She also happens to be a teacher employed by the Vermilion Parish School Board. Shortly after her arrest, I was contacted by teachers from Vermilion, and with their help, I was able to publish a blog about the incident within hours. You can read it and watch the video here–>Teacher arrested for speaking against supt. contract and raise.
Between the hours of 6:00am-8:00pm on Tuesday, the blog received 8600 views. Until Tuesday, the most traffic my blog had ever received in a 24 hour period was 1600 views. The unexpected volume caused the host-server’s algorithm to think I was under cyber attack and it suspended the account. I had to make some changes and do some re-configuring, but it took 24 hours before it was back up.
It is fair to say that the incident in Vermilion Parish has gone viral. The original YouTube Video is currently at 2.6 million views. In the days after the incident, Hargrave received in excess of 350 requests for interviews. She granted an interview to NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, and segments of her released video statement have appeared on news outlets around the world. See her video statement and NBC interview at the end of this blog.
In the Spring of 2017, I had the opportunity to speak to groups of teachers in several parishes about the decline of teacher engagement since the education reform movement began, the need for teachers to be engaged at both the local and state levels, and the importance of understanding that being employed as a teacher does not nullify your 1st Amendment Right to speak out. Vermilion was one of those parishes.
To be clear. I’m not taking any credit. I know Deyshia Hargrave, and she has long been a strong voice for teachers and students. Her composure in her video statement is inspiring. After you’ve seen it, I think you’ll agree. When I first watched her video, I immediately thought of The Shot Heard ‘Round The World which is the symbolic beginning of the American Revolution. Her words kept swirling around in my head, and I watch it again…and again…and again. Then I realized. This isn’t about the event. This wasn’t “the shot.” No. This is about Deyshia.
If you have seen the movie The Hunger Games, you know exactly what I am talking about. For those of you who haven’t, I’ll summarize, but I urge you to watch all three movies in the series. The Hunger Games Trilogy is set in the country of Panem, some time in the future, in post-apocalyptic North America. The wealthy capitol is set in the Rocky Mountains and is surrounded by twelve poor districts. The president and his administration live lavish lifestyles and are filthy rich while the citizens of the districts live in poverty. Each year, each district selects a representative to go to the capitol district to compete in a death match. The winning district gets food and essentials for a year.
Katniss Everdeen is a competitor in the games who wins, and becomes an icon to not only the citizens of her district, but all of the districts. She is given the name “Mockingjay” and eventually, leads the revolution to overthrow the president. So basically, the people with money (business/industry) control the people without money (parents, teachers, schools), and the districts compete for a piece of the pie (SPS scores, funding, raises). Does any of this sound familiar? Deyshia Hargrave is the Mockingjay!
I want to point out I do not hold any personal issues with Supt. Jerome Puyau. I have communicated with him in the past over issues regarding state testing, and he allowed the use of a school facility when I spoke to the teachers there. I understand that there are teachers there who see Puyau in a different light. If I worked for him, I might feel, differently. This was discussed during my presentation. This morning, Puyau accepted blame (note: I originally said Puyau apologized. He did not. He accepted blame.) in an interview on CBS News which can also be seen at the end of this blog. I believe the apology was driven by the reality of Hargrave’s statement, “I’m pretty upset no one stopped it from happening.” I believe it is worth the watch.
Even so, Puyau sits in that seat to serve as secretary to the school board. He isn’t in control of the meeting. The board president, Anthony Fontana, is in control. Puyau is employed by the board. I am convinced that even if he had made an attempt to stop it, Fontana would have allowed it to continue.
I, myself, have been astonished, overwhelmed, and proud of the outpouring of support and love that has been extended to Deyshia Hargrave. I know it must be infinitely more overwhelming, for her. I want to thank everyone who has done so. I also want to bring to light some of the people who have remained deafeningly silent; particularly elected officials and organizations.
The Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE), via its local, the Vermilion Association of Educators (VAE), holds a “negotiated contract” with Vermilion Parish. Vermilion is one of only four districts that holds a negotiated contract with LAE. The Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) also holds a handful of contracts through locals in other parishes. Negotiated contracts are overwhelmingly NOT the norm in Louisiana. Hargrave is a member of the VAE. Know this. She is being well represented by LAE attorney, Brian Blackwell. Immediately after the incident, LAE President, Debbie Meaux, made the following statement.
“As an organization that advocates for the dedicated school employees of Louisiana, we firmly denounce the mistreatment of Ms. Hargrave, a loving parent and dedicated teacher serving the students of Vermilion Parish. It is every citizen’s right to speak up for their beliefs. Any action that infringes upon this right is unlawful and unacceptable.”-Debbie Meaux, LAE President
Today, Thursday January 11th, I was in contact with the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. Public Relations Director, Les Landon, provided the following statement from LFT President, Larry Carter.
“The Louisiana Federation of Teachers condemns this assault on Deyshia Hargrave’s right to address a public body. An attack on one teacher’s rights is an attack on all of us, and it must not go unchallenged. We deeply appreciate Governor John Bel Edwards’ statement that the action against her was unwarranted and should not have happened.”-Larry Carter, LFT President
It is very reassuring to know that these two organizations that occasionally disagree but are always on the same side of the fence, support the First Amendment Right of teachers.
Pay attention, teachers! If you belong to an organization that has not made a public statement prior to the publication of this blog affirming the First Amendment Rights of teachers, or condemning the actions of the VPSB, you should re-evaluate your membership. Thus far, I have only seen criticism of the “negotiated contract” and not a single show of support for the teacher.
On Wednesday, January 10th, Gov. John Bel Edwards made his first public statement on the incident during his monthly “Ask the Governor” radio show. His office later released the following statement on Twitter.
“It was terribly unfortunate what happened to Deyshia Hargrave in Vermilion Parish. We need to do a better job of promoting our teachers in our communities and encouraging them in their walk as educators.“-Gov. John Bel Edwards
I want to thank both Rep. Bob Hensgens and Senator John Milkovich for attending the Stand With Deyshia rally held today in Abbeville, LA. Their statements about Freedom of Speech, transparency in government, and the mistreatment of teachers were very much appreciated. If your local or statewide elected official hasn’t made a statement condemning the actions of VPSB, then contact them and ask them why.
Don’t let Deyshia’s experience die in vain. The revolution has begun, and she is our Mockingjay! The time has come for teachers to attend school board meetings, BESE meetings and legislative meetings. Teachers and parents know what is best for our children; not politicians and bureaucrats.
Be sure to share this blog with all of your friends, family and coworkers across all social media platforms. Use the tag #StandByDeyshia.