And so are the 3.2 million public school teachers across America.

Deyisha Hargrave

Picture of Ms. Deyshia Hargrave in the Rene A. Rost Middle School Yearbook, 2017-2018

 

On Monday, January 8, 2018, Ms. Deyshia Hargrave, a veteran public school teacher, questioned the Vermillion Parish School District’s Board of Education’s decision to raise the salary of Superintendent Jerome Puyau (by over $30,000). When speaking at the meeting, Ms. Hargrave said:

 “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.”

According to the website Teaching Degree, , the mean wage of public school teachers in Louisiana is between $43,000 to $48,000. These figures include benefits.

The teachers in Vermillion Parish have toiled for six years without a pay increase. Six years. Click To Tweet

After the board approved the Superintendent’s raise, it yielded to Ms. Hargrave again, where she calmly stated:  “I have a serious issue with a superintendent, or any person in a position of leadership, getting any type of raise. It’s absurd that we’re even considering giving someone a raise when these teachers are working this hard and not getting a dime.”

Anthony Fontana, President of the Board, banged his gavel, proclaiming: “Stop right now, that’s not germane to what’s on the agenda.”

Not germane to the agenda? What could be more relevant to the discussion of an employee contract than the approval of a $38,000 increase in the salary of a school leader, especially in a school district that has failed to increase teachers’ compensation?

The silencing of Ms. Hargrave is enough to cause fury among teachers everywhere. Moreover, she was subsequently escorted out of the meeting in handcuffs, arrested, detained, and forced to post bond on the charges of resisting arrest!

Watch the full video is here.

So why are teachers like Ms. Hargrave willing to speak out?  The answer lies in the erosion of support for public schools, teachers, and other people’s children.

According to The Times-Picayune, Louisiana ranks third in the nation (behind Hawaii and Delaware) in the percentage of students enrolled in private schools, with almost 20 percent of all Louisiana’s students attending private schools.  That rate is higher if one accounts for charter school attendance, many of which are designated as public schools but run as profit-making enterprises.

Not surprisingly, Louisiana has underfunded public schools, meager teaching salaries, and underachieving students. Most Louisiana residents with any economic means, prefer to send their children to private or charter schools.

While many people in Louisiana have turned their backs on public education, so have millions of middle to upper-class parents all over the United States. The divestment in public education is real and is steadily increasing. This underlying reasons for the refusal to value public schools, and to dismiss the importance of the institution as a bedrock of civic participation, are part market-based economics, part elitism, part religious affiliation, and part segregation.

Of course, Louisiana is just an example. Trulia, the real estate search engine, highlighted the “Top 10 U.S. Metros with the Highest Private School Enrollment.” Trulia cited cities like St. Louis, Missouri, Cincinnati, Ohio, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Cleveland, Ohio, Wilmington, Delaware, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, San Francisco, California and Honolulu, Hawaii.

Teacher pay and public school enrollment are indicative of American values. By continuing to devalue public education, by increasing white flight from public school enrollment, by disrespecting teachers, by repeating the rhetoric of school reform and choice, America is abandoning its core beliefs. The appointment of U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is a prime example.

So, when a teacher like Ms. Hargrave bravely speaks out in a Board of Education meeting only to be silenced, handcuffed, and arrested, she is speaking out for every public school teacher and every public school student who is working and learning in an environment of underfunded mandates that create an atmosphere of neglect.

The civil rights movement of the 21st century, embodied in Ms. Hargrave’s bravery, is a call for equal opportunity and participation in the American Dream.Watch out, America, because social justice warriors are public school teachers wearing their sensible shoes demanding an end to savage inequalities.

“In a phone interview late Tuesday evening, Fontana told WAFB’s Scottie Hunter he stands behind the officer’s actions, saying he believes the real blame actually falls on the teacher. ‘This is not about the board, it’s about the teacher and everybody wants to side with the poor little woman who got thrown out,’ said Fontana. ‘Well, she made a choice. She could have walked out and nothing would have happened.'”

The poor little woman?  Mr. Fontana, are you demeaning Ms. Hargrave, who was declared the 2016 Teacher of the Year? Are you actually referring to an employee as a “poor little woman”?  Was that poor little woman getting too uppity for your liking, so you directed the officer to remove her? Do you think women should know their place?  Mr. Fontana, please note that almost 80 percent of all teachers are female.  And yes, like Ms. Hargrave, we have a choice and we also have first amendment rights.  Like Senator Warren from Massachusettes, Ms. Hargrave persisted.  And yes, women are sick and tired of being silenced, dismissed, and poor!  So, yes, Mr. Fontana, everybody is on the side of the poor little woman, because you are in the wrong.

Thank you, Ms. Deyshia Hargrave.  Activism can often feel like a lonely endeavor, but you are not alone.  There are 3.2 million public school teachers in America standing with you, and I am your biggest cheerleader.

 

 

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