Fort Worth trustees affirm firing of principal accused in nightclub fight

FORT WORTH -- Fort Worth school board members voted late Tuesday to sustain the firing of a former J.P. Elder Middle School principal who was arrested in Dallas in May after an altercation outside a club.

Carla Westbrook Spaniel was arrested on two counts of abandoning her children and public intoxication. Police said that she left her two children, ages 3 and 4, alone at The Adolphus hotel to go to a nightclub, where she was accused of punching a bouncer and scuffling with police.

This month, Dallas Judge Carter Thompson found Spaniel not guilty of the child-abandonment charges. The public-intoxication case is pending.

Spaniel, 44, declined to comment at Tuesday's meeting. Her attorney, Daniel Ortiz, said he is disappointed in the board's action, which was approved 6-3.

"The board failed to do what's right," he said. "The majority of this board is sending a clear message to educators that they're not going to give anyone a second chance."

Trustees initially voted to fire her in June. Spaniel had been on paid leave as she appealed the decision to an examiner appointed by the Texas Education Agency.

The examiner upheld the board's decision, saying trustees could sustain her termination or reassign her.

At Tuesday's meeting, Trustee Juan Rangel attempted a motion to have Spaniel finish out her contract through the Family and Medical Leave Act. However, an attorney advising the district said she must apply for such leave and meet federal standards for it to be granted.

Spaniel said she has a medical condition but declined to identify it. Rangel and Trustees Ann Sutherland and T.A. Sims voted against sustaining her termination.

Spaniel's husband, Keith, said before the vote that he hoped trustees would consider the overwhelming stress she was under as a military wife. He said Elder made great strides under her leadership, rising to the state's second-highest rating of academically recognized. She had been principal at the north Fort Worth middle school since 2006.

"I hope they would make a decision to support her," he said. "She was a single mom with two kids and a husband in the war zone."

Keith Spaniel said he was in Iraq on his third deployment at the time of the incident.

He returned to Texas shortly after her arrest and said he came off active duty in July. He is still in the reserves.

Ortiz said the Spaniels are reviewing options that include appealing to the state's education commissioner or filing a lawsuit.

Eva-Marie Ayala,