Is the mom ‘untameable’ or is the school just very difficult?
Other parents whose kids attend Sun Valley Primary School in Fish Hoek have come forward with complaints
A meeting to resolve a stand-off between a school principal and a mother he described as “untameable” went ahead without her.
Charlotte Damgaard said Western Cape Education Department circuit manager Thandi Jafta refused to allow her to attend Tuesday’s meeting at Sun Valley Primary School in Fish Hoek because she arrived with a lawyer, James Ramsay.
The meeting went ahead, attended by Jafta, school principal Gavin Keller and new governing body chairman Adnaan Mia, and 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.”Education department spokesman Bronagh Hammond told Times Select: “The circuit manager visited the school to try and mediate the situation in good faith between the parent and school management.
“The circuit manager offered to still engage with the parent yesterday [Tuesday], however, requested that the lawyer not be present. The parent refused.”The row erupted after Damgaard complained to another school about its “biased” netball umpires. Keller ordered Sun Valley sports coaches not to select her Grade 5 daughter Sienna and wrote to Damgaard saying she had embarrassed Sun Valley and was “untameable”.
Sienna was allowed to play netball for Sun Valley on Saturday because her mother agreed to Keller’s demand that she stay away.
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.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 told Times Select: “To say that I am stunned is an understatement. The only interaction I have had with Mr Keller was when I asked to see him about the ‘no homework’ policy that he had implemented at Sun Valley. That was in fact the first time I had met him [and I think the last]. It was several years ago.
“So we certainly do not have a bad relationship, but to intimate that we are somehow close and that this could affect the manner in which I deal with any matters affecting his school, is completely wrong.
“Even if we were very close, I deal with matters on their own merits in as fair a manner as I can.”Times Select asked Schäfer’s department about allegations of nepotism. Keller’s son, Brad, is head innovator at Sun Valley; the principal’s wife, Heather, is director: intervention, teaching academy, boutique and clothing; and Brad Keller’s wife, Cath, also works there.
Department spokeswoman Bronagh Hammond said Keller, his wife and their son are “WCED employees appointed according to the Employment of Educators Act. The daughter-in-law is a school governing body appointee.”
When appointing an education department employee the school governors must “ensure that the recommendation is not obtained through undue influence on the members of the governing body”, said Hammond.
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 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”.
Heather Keller wrote to the parents about the shoes’ orange laces and soles. She enclosed alternative pairs of laces in black and white and a koki pen that could be used to colour the soles black.
Keller told Times Select on Wednesday the school had been reluctant to comment about Sienna’s case. “We’re dealing with a child in the school and I am really loath to say anything in public,” he said. “We’re trying desperately to protect the child.”
Mia did not respond to requests for comment. Noel Frost, who wrote to Damgaard as chairman of the governing body on August 21, said Mia had since replaced him.
In a letter sent home with pupils on Friday, 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.
He described Sun Valley as a bubble of excellence and said Damgaard had “erred repeatedly” and “failed to heed numerous warnings”. He intended to sue her for defamation, he said.
Hammond said the education department was aware of allegations about Keller and Sun Valley that had been raised in the media “and asks that the district be notified if anyone wishes to come forward with evidence in this regard”.