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DALLAS –– Angela Spivey, a teacher by trade, spends much of her days in front of a computer searching for work. She’s hoping she’s still employable.
Spivey taught at the Dallas Independent School District for 15 years, the past four at Roosevelt High School. While there, she worked with special needs children. But one year ago, during a routine diaper change of one of her students, Spivey says the student on the changing table beside her went into a seizure while she was reaching for a diaper.
Before she could gain control, the student fell to the floor and hit her head.
“It was an accident, an honest accident, something that I could not control,” she said. “I had no idea. You don’t know when a seizure is going to come.
District officials didn’t see it that way. While there were no other witnesses and no one to dispute her claim, Spivey was suspended. She was fired a few weeks later from the job that she says she loved.
“I interact with them, play with them, talk to them, make them laugh,” said Spivey. “A person, even though they are disabled, they can feel the vibe."
Her only hope to save her job –– and possibly her career –– was the internal grievance process and a stack of support letters from co-workers, bosses, parents and friends, singing Spivey's praises.
School bus driver Eugene O'Neil spoke on "behalf of Ms. Spivey's positive and caring attitude toward the students.” Roosevelt science teacher Chamara Fields calls Spivey "caring, loving and sincere."
Special Education Department Chair Rosalyn Canada wrote, "Spivey took extra care of this particular student and did extra duties per her mother's request such as wash and change her clothes."
And of the actual incident, school nurse Mattie Ochulo said, “I believe this was an accident. Ms. Spivey should not be held responsible."
They are just a sampling of the comments that Spivey felt would help save her job during her appeal. But those letters of support were never given consideration by the panel of school board trustees deciding her fate.
They were not admitted into record during her Level II Grievance hearing because Spivey failed to have them notarized. She says she was given an extra day to get them notarized but missed that deadline by just 15 minutes.
In May, during a second hearing in front of the three-member panel of district trustees, an attorney for DISD fought to make sure the support letters were not introduced.
During that hearing, the attorney objected to Spivey trying to introduce testimony not previously accepted in the grievance process and argued that she should be fired because she allowed another child to be injured at another school in 2008.
“Two special needs kids have been injured under Ms. Spivey's watch,” said DISD attorney Lisa Ray. “Can we really take a chance on another one? I think not."
Spivey says she was ultimately cleared in the 2008 incident and returned to the classroom with back pay the next year. In last year's case, Child Protective Services investigators reviewed the facts and "ruled out" medical neglect" and were "unable to determine" if Spivey put the student in danger.
Texas Education Agency officials also reviewed her case, issued her a reprimand over the accident but did not revoke her certification. In her final and decisive hearing last May, Spivey pleaded her case one last time.
“People who worked with me over the years can vouch for my credibility,” said Spivey.
But none of that favorable testimony was requested. And while Spivey was never accused of a policy violation, the three-member panel voted unanimously to uphold her termination. She was fired from a job few others may have never fought to keep, a job she will continue to fight to do again.
“I still try to figure out why,” said Spivey. “Why me?”