We’ve all seen the shocking video from Vermillion Parish in Louisiana this week where a teacher is tackled to the ground and arrested because she asked a question to the school board.
It’s a gross abuse of power that brings up many issues:
- Public servants responding to the public with violence.
- Elected representatives refusing to hear from their constituents and – in fact – taking action to silence them.
- Leaders who are supposed to oversee children’s educations unconcerned with the lesson local kids will be taking home from the actions of adults who are supposed to set a better example.
The case is simple.
The eight-member board had been deadlocked 4-4 on whether or not to give Superintendent Jerome Puyau a raise. Then one of the members died. Instead of his wife filling in until a new election could be held, board president Anthony Fontana , who was in favor of the raise, appointed a like-minded replacement and tried to force a vote.
So Deyshia Hargrave, a district teacher and parent, asked why the superintendent should get a raise while the teachers haven’t had one in several years.
It was a reasonable question, asked at the proper time, in a respectful tone, when comments were directed specifically at her.
However, Reggie Hilts, the Abbeville city marshal who also serves as a school resource officer, told her she was being disruptive and asked her to leave – which she did. When she got out in the hall, he forced her to the ground, put her in handcuffs and pushed her out of the building.
It was completely unjustified, a horrific violation of Hargrave’s rights and goes counter to the very purpose of public school.
It is the idea that district wide decisions about our children’s learning should be made by duly-elected members of the community in the full light of day. Except where doing so would violate an individual’s personal rights, all school documents are public. They are voted on in public. And they are subject to question and comment by the public.
If the taxpayers – the people who foot the bill for the majority of the district costs – don’t approve of what their representatives are doing, they can take steps to replace them.
These are the very foundation of public schooling and one of the major reasons the public school system is superior to charter or voucher schools, which typically do not have them. Even when privatized systems retain the vestiges of democratic rule, they are optional and can be stripped away at the whim of the businesses and/or corporations that run them.
Vermillion Parish School Board would do well to remember this.
The actions taken by City Marshall Hilts were either done at the behest of the board or certainly without any public dissent among the members.
They stomped on Hargrave’s First Amendment rights and ignored their responsibility to the community they serve.
If my description of how a public school is supposed to work sounds like a lecture, that’s intentional. These representatives could do with a lesson in how democracy works.
Our actions have consequences and those consequences only become more consequential when we become public servants. The board, the superintendent and certainly Hilts may very well have opened themselves up to legal action.
But beyond putting themselves in danger from having to pay punitive damages to Hargrave – that I hope they pay out of the superintendent’s bloated salary – they have betrayed a dangerous attitude toward the very concept of self-rule.
Whether they meant to or not, they have given the children of Vermillion Parish a lesson in government and community values.
Make no mistake. The children are watching. They get the TV news and status updates on Facebook and Twitter. They have access to YouTube. Doubtless, they have seen this video countless times. They have probably played it over and over again.
They saw their teacher brutally manhandled by a supposed law enforcement officer. And they heard the deafening silence from the school board about it.
They know now that this kind of behavior is deemed acceptable in Vermillion Parish. Beware the kind of behavior adults can expect from children who are given such a disgraceful example!
Moreover, these children are well aware of the matter in dispute.
That is not what leaders do who care about the well-being of students. It is a result of backroom deals and the good ol’ boys network.
The lesson is that hard work doesn’t matter. The only thing you should worry about is making a deal no matter whom it hurts. Just look out for numero uno.
After all, the board could give the teachers something – some token of appreciation to show that they value their continued commitment to the children of the community. But they don’t. Yet they fight tooth and nail to do so for one individual who has in no way proven himself indispensable.
It is the teachers who come in every day and give their all to help students learn. Not a superintendent who demands they jump through an increasingly complex set of irrelevant hoops.
But there’s always money for the person at the top. Never anything for the people who do the real work.
Critics complain that teachers don’t deserve a raise because they already earn more money than the majority of the people who live in the community. (An argument which – by the way – would also apply to the superintendent.)
But even beyond basic logic, it’s a bogus line of reasoning!
Doctors attend patients in poor communities. They still earn high salaries – maybe not as high as they would serving the wealthy, but they have to be able to survive, to pay back the loans they took out to go through medical school, etc. So do lawyers, accountants and specialists of all kinds. That’s just capitalism. If you want someone to provide a good or service, you have to pay them a competitive wage. Otherwise, they’ll move on to greener pastures.
The kids see you pinching pennies. They know what that means – you don’t think they’re worth the investment.
The lessons of Vermillion Parish go far beyond Louisiana.
Anytime people mistreat teachers, they’re really mistreating the children those educators serve.
When Hilt wrestled a woman half his size to the ground and placed her under arrest for the crime of exercising her rights, he put the entire community in jail.
When the board directed him to act – or at very least neglected to stop him – they made themselves culpable in the crime.
It is something we have been guilty of in nearly every state of the union. We have neglected our children, abused our teachers and injured the democratic principles on which our country was founded.
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