For the first time, Deyshia Hargrave and Superintendent Jerome Puyau talks with News 15 exclusively about what went down in that board room. Puyau is now going on the record about the death threats his family has received and the tense moments in that Monday night board meeting. “It wasn’t fair to anyone in our system; our kids. I am a very strong person but our two daughters; love of my life, my sister, my family, we’re all educators. For those threats against them… more people were hurt. The media is very quick to point fingers and not research. That’s why I am here today. I made myself available very quickly. I am answering very tough questions because the truth needs to get out there,” said Vermilion Parish School Board President Jerome Puyau.
Puyau had plenty to say about the media and our “lack of research.” However, it is important to note News 15 did offer Superintendent Puyau an interview on Tuesday morning, the day after the dramatic meeting, and he declined to answer those “tough questions” and anything relating to the incident on Monday. In a text message to News 15 reporter, Alex Worstell, Puyau clearly states “Only the contract. I will not discuss the meeting.” Only on Wednesday did Puyau agree to talk about what happened on Monday night.
Hargrave’s account directly calls into question what Vermilion Parish School Board President Anthony Fontana says happened.
“And before I finished the question, he cuffed my left hand, grabbed my right hand down and that’s when I was on the floor and I started yelling, what are you doing? Like, I was seriously panicked, I’ve never been handcuffed in my life,” said Hargrave.
An Abbeville City Marshal escorted Hargrave from the school board’s meeting Monday night after she was recognized to speak and was involved in a discussion with Vermilion Parish School Board Superintendent Jerome Puyau. After Hargrave left the meeting room, a disturbance was heard in the hallway. When cameras turned to the sound, Hargrave was being put into handcuffs, then lifted to her feet and force-walked out of the building.
She was arrested and booked into the Abbeville City Jail on charges of remaining after being forbidden and resisting arrest, charges Abbeville City Attorney Ike Funderburk says he will not pursue.
For the Vermilion Parish School District, the damage is already done. Video of Hargrave’s arrest has gone viral, prompting torrents of phone calls, threats and media attention on the district, which has gone from a “B” district to an “A” district during Puyau’s tenure.
But now, allegations of verbal abuse and disrespect toward board members from Fontana are resurfacing.
There is a police report filed last year by a fellow board member accusing Fontana of a verbal and what she perceived to be a physical threat. She says this is something that plays to the mentality of what happened Monday night.
“He raised his hand and acted like he was going to slap me. My husband said, ‘Don’t you dare,’” said Vermilion Parish School Board member Sara Duplechain.
Duplechain was speaking about an incident that happened months ago involving Fontana. She says it’s this mentality that led to Monday night’s out of control meeting.
“It’s a sad, sad day to be a teacher in Vermilion parish,” said Hargrave.
Hargrave was asked to leave the board meeting then removed in handcuffs. But what really happened here? There is missing video of the moments before the incident escalated.
“I saw them go out and all of a sudden there was some kind of scuffle,” said Fontana.
Fontana insists he did not instruct the deputy to remove Hargrave.
“He took it on his own accord and that’s what he learned in previous training,” said Fontana.
However, fellow board member Dupelchain says the deputy was acting on Fontana’s order.
“I can tell you before the meeting they had a conversation in the hall, like they do before every single meeting, and I am pretty sure that when he was told when he hits his gavel that someone needed to be removed and that he needed to remove the person,” said Duplechain.
So hitting his gavel was signal to remove someone?
She responded, “His gavel was signal for someone to walk in, ask the person to be removed.”
The video speaks to that theory. Fontana can be seen to raise his gavel and lower it as Ms. Hargrave continues to speak to Puyau.
Monday nights meeting scratched the surface of many other issues in Vermilion Parish public education. Some teachers have said they are too intimidated to talk about them.
Board member Kibbie Pillette says, “They are afraid to speak their mind because of retaliation.” The superintendent refuses to acknowledge the incident at the board meeting.
“Our board, our school system and our teachers, we do work well together,” Puyau said.
That statement is news to some, including Pillette.
“This is the worst board I have ever served on,” said Pillette.
“There are so many unanswered questions,” noted Duplechain.