People across Louisiana and beyond were shocked and angered this week as video of a teacher being thrown onto the floor and arrested outside a school board meeting went viral on social media.

The teacher, Deyshia Hargrave, attended the Vermilion Parish School Board meeting Monday night and questioned the board’s wisdom in awarding the system’s superintendent a generous raise while teachers have gone without one for more than 10 years.

Board President Anthony Fontana ruled Hargrave out of order, saying she was asking questions during the period reserved for public comment. Later, when Hargrave responded to a question from the board, an Abbeville city marshal arrested her. She was charged with remaining after being forbidden and resisting an officer. She was later released from jail on a bond.

The entire ugly episode, though it occurred in Abbeville, has some useful lessons for local public officials, though residents of Terrebonne and Lafourche would never expect to see people’s rights violated in such a dramatic fashion here.

First, and most obviously, questions are comments. When the public is allowed to have its say at a public meeting, the comments will not always be supportive or comforting to the politicians being addressed. They’re not supposed to be.

Second, it is important for public servants to remember that sometimes, people who participate in meetings are hostile or downright angry. That is their right, just as it is their right to express those feelings at meetings where they think they are most appropriately addressed.

As long as people are behaving within the confines of the law, though, their disagreement or dissent should never be punished.

Third, participation in public meetings should always be encouraged rather than discouraged.

The process of molding and adjusting public policy becomes much stronger as more people get involved in it.

Last, it is important to note that the video of the incident drew such a strong reaction because so many of us have a deep understanding that public meetings belong to the public, not to the people who happen to be sitting in elected seats.

People intuitively recognize how wrong it is for any public entity to silence or remove the voice of the people it is supposed to represent.

And we all – our local public servants and residents – should take the lessons here to heart and put them to use improving our processes.

If you saw the video and were angered or saddened by it, ask yourself whether you might have something to add to the local discussions taking place before the school board or the parish council.

If you are on a board or a council, ask yourself what are some things you can do to encourage public participation, to make your meetings more accessible to the people you want to serve.

Clearly, this situation was handled incorrectly. But there are ways we can use it to make us better at participating and leading.


Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper, not of any individual.