School slaps sports ban on pupil over ‘untameable’ mom
Principal calls mother unruly and unloving, governing body threatens to sue after she accuses rival school of bias in netball
A Grade 5 netball star was dropped from her school team after the principal described her mother as “untameable”.
Now the Cape Town girl’s mother has been threatened with legal action by the chairman of the Sun Valley Primary School governing body after she distributed a letter to other parents about the principal’s move.
And the headmaster has written to Sienna Noon’s mother, Charlotte Damgaard, accusing her of having “little self-control”, of putting her daughter through “trauma … each and every day of her life” and of being an “unloving mother”.
The drama began on August 1 when Damgaard watched Sienna, a Western Province netball player, in a match against Reddam House Constantia.
Afterwards, she e-mailed Reddam House, saying: “[Your] coaches are extremely biased when umpiring netball matches. This has been going on for so long that [Reddam] has developed a reputation for this poor sportsmanship. [Reddam netball] is the only school sport I have ever encountered where the bias is so blatant and pervasive.”Two weeks later, Damgaard wrote a critical letter to Sienna’s teacher, sparking the August 16 rocket from Sun Valley principal Gavin Keller.
He said that in “endless meetings” with sports staff, Damgaard had been asked to control herself. “You continue to behave in a manner that can only be described as totally unacceptable,” he said.
“We have sent a formal apology to [Reddam] seeking forgiveness for your behaviour – an adult with little self-control but unfortunately associated with our brand – and for making such outrageous and defamatory accusations against a neighbouring school.”
In the face of an “untameable ... unruly” Damgaard, for the first time in his 36-year career Keller said he had issued an instruction that Sienna was not to be picked for any teams.
Keller said Damgaard’s letter to Sienna’s teacher was “an appalling indicator of the trauma your child must go through each and every day of her life”, and recommended an article based on a book called Daughter Detox — Recovering from an unloving mother and reclaiming your life.The principal said he would reconsider his sports ban on Sienna if Damgaard agreed to stay away from fixtures and arranged for a paramedic to be present to administer any diabetes medication her daughter needed, stayed away from the school, did not correspond with teachers, and apologised to Reddam.
“Alternatively, you may consider removing Sienna from Sun Valley Primary and find a school that is prepared to manage you,” he said. “The three-month notice period will be waived in this case. An exit form is enclosed.”
Damgaard wrote to Western Cape education MEC Debbie Schäfer and Metro South education circuit manager Thandi Jafta, saying she was “shocked” by Keller’s letter and asking for their intervention.
In her reply, Jafta said Damgaard’s letter to Reddam House was “inappropriate” and brought Sun Valley Primary into disrepute. She also asked her to apologise to Sienna’s teacher.
But she said she would ask Keller to reconsider his decision to ban Damgaard’s “innocent” daughter from sports teams.
“I am also going to ask him to give you another chance to be with her as she needs your support. But you need to commit not to cause any other incidents that will bring the school into disrepute,” said Jafta.
But the following day, on Saturday, August 18, Sienna was left in tears on the sidelines of a netball match, and Damgaard claimed Sun Valley sports staff told her: “This is coming from the top. I got a message this morning to say that Sienna cannot play. This is between you and Mr Keller, please do not make a scene.”On Tuesday, Damgaard handed 80 copies of a letter to parents at the school gate, informing them that Sienna had been banned from school teams. She asked them to lobby the school and Jafta and share their views on social media.
On Wednesday, governing body chairman Noel Frost, a Fish Hoek attorney, wrote to Damgaard, saying her letter had misrepresented what had happened.
He demanded that she retract all verbal and written statements about the school and Keller, and issue an unconditional written apology “for your recent actions and public outburst”.
Frost said if Damgaard failed to comply by close of business on Thursday, the school would apply for an interdict against her and sue her for defamation.
The education MEC's spokesperson, Jessica Shelver, told Times Select: “Our circuit manager has discussed the matter with the principal, who indicated that the learner was prevented from playing because she did not attend practice, and that the learner was not banned from sport as the parent claimed.
“The school’s district official will be meeting with the parent, Mr Keller and the SGB chairperson on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the matter and hear both sides of the story. We will provide full comment following this meeting.”Damgaard said she had not been invited to Tuesday’s meeting, but had received about 150 e-mails since distributing her letter on Tuesday. “Every one of them is positive and supportive,” she said. “There isn’t a single negative comment about what I’ve done.”
She said she had sent an apology to Sienna’s teacher, but had received a call from Reddam House thanking her for contacting the school.
“We had a very constructive conversation which ended very positively,” she said.
“This is in stark contrast with how Mr Keller deals with any complaints whatsoever.”
Neither Keller nor Frost responded to requests for comment.
*This article has been amended to make it clear that the school principal is from Sun Valley.