Sun Valley Primary School in Fish Hoek is in the news, after a stand-off between the principal and a mother became a talking point amongst fellow parents and staff.
The school’s principal, Gavin Keller, is squaring off against Charlotte Damgaard (pictured above with her daughter, Sienna), who he has described as ‘untameable’. It was hoped that the two would meet on Tuesday to sort out their differences, but that didn’t exactly go to plan.
Damgaard says that Western Cape Education Department circuit manager Thandi Jafta wouldn’t allow her to attend the meeting because she rocked up with her lawyer.
Jafta, Keller, and the school’s new governing body chairman, Adnaan Mia, held the meeting without Damgaard, reports Times LIVE:
[They] decided to ban Damgaard from school functions and sports events for the rest of the third term.
It is understood Jafta convinced Keller and Mia that the six-month ban they wanted was excessive. Mia’s letter to Damgaard says: “Should the school experience another incident of any sort pertaining to [you] in the future, the sanction will be reimposed for a period of six months.”
The obvious question here is what led to Damgaard facing a ban, and the initial problem seems rather innocuous. The mother had complained to another school about their netball umpires, which she said were “biased”, and Keller then ordered Sun Valley’s sports coaches not to select Sienna.
Keller also said that Damgaard had embarrassed the school.
That’s child’s play compared to the Jozi school fallout that made the news back in June, but again it seems that parents and school sports don’t always mix.
Sienna has since been selected for the netball team, on condition that her mother stay away, and you would think that would be the end of that.
The dispute entered the public domain eight days ago when Damgaard distributed 80 copies of a letter at the school gate. The letter was posted on Facebook and has attracted hundreds of comments and shares, mainly in support of the mother and critical of Keller.
A crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for Damgaard’s legal bills, called “Help Sienna beat Goliath”, had raised almost R8,000 by close of business on Wednesday.
A screenshot from that crowdfunding campaign, showing that the amount has now neared R9 000.
Keller has stated that he intends to sue Damgaard for defamation, adding that she has “erred repeatedly” and “failed to heed numerous warnings”.
As a result of the dispute going public, other parents have offered their takes:
Numerous parents have contacted Times Select to express support for Damgaard and to make allegations about Sun Valley Primary and Keller. Most of them have requested anonymity, saying they fear repercussions for their children.
A parent who said he had threatened to escalate his dispute with the school to Western Cape education MEC Debbie Schäfer received a reply from Keller — seen by Times Select — which said: “I have a very good relationship with the MEC.”
Schäfer has denied that the relationship between her and Keller has had any impact on her handling of the matter.
Another parent who contacted Times Select said he clashed with the school over a medical condition which meant his son’s orthopaedic surgeon prescribed a specific pair of shoes which did not conform with the school’s “variform” policy.
Keller [pictured above] wrote to him in May, saying: “Your choice not to ensure that your child has the correct colour was a mistake … [and] places you at the heart of any anxiety experienced by [your son]. Isn’t it just so easy to blame others when you are at fault?”
The principal said the parent could either buy his son a shoe the correct colour or “remove him from our school”.
He also sent a letter home with the pupils last Friday, and his message was clear:
Keller said it had been “a difficult week” for the school. “The power of social media is enormous for those with an axe to grind, but those who CARE have remained silent to protect the lives of innocent children, our clients,” he said.
Drama in the Deep South.
Nothing a spot of yoga and a realigning of the chakras can’t fix, surely?
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