x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Pupils thrilled to be back at Dubai special needs school

St Andrews School, which closed last week amid claims that its owner had fled with its funds, is back open after being thrown a lifeline by a Dubai education provider.

DUBAI // The special needs school that closed last week amid claims that its owner had fled with its funds was back open yesterday after being thrown a lifeline by a Dubai education provider.

St Andrews School closed last Wednesday amid claims that its former owner, Christopher Reynolds, had fled with all its funds. He denies any wrongdoing.

But yesterday the school was open for classes after Dubai Education, the company that runs the Canadian University of Dubai, agreed to take over.

Parents were delighted. "My daughter is excited to go back to school, she's back in her uniform and happy," said one father. Indeed, the mood could not have been more different from last week, when distraught families turned up to find the gates locked.

"I'm relieved," added the father. "The children are back in school, the parents are happy, and you couldn't have asked for a better outcome. Whatever other issues are outstanding can be resolved.

"The first and foremost issue was getting the children back in school, and that's happened.

Another parent said: "This is a very happy day, it's a great relief."

The families were greeted at the villa in Al Safa that houses the school by its new principal, Kamal Fodil.

"I believe the parents want to put this behind them, they are happy to see that their kids are back in school," he said. "We are going to do whatever it takes to make them forget this. Let's move on."

Mr Fodil, who was previously vice-president of student affairs at the Canadian University of Dubai, has taught in Canada for 22 years.

"I was a principal and I have worked in a school where we had kids with special needs and I am qualified in this field.

"I have a master's specialising in students with special needs with an additional specialisation in reading intervention."

Spencer Semple, a spokesman for Dubai Education, said: "Dubai Education's mandate is to provide educational services from the cradle to PhD.

"We are in the field of education and have the resources and expertise available to ensure an excellent education for these children.

"Thursday night these children had no school to go to, Sunday morning they do. Our focus this weekend has been on the school reopening for these children."

Mr Fodil said the school's 53 students, aged from 5 to 15, were finding familiar faces as they trooped into the classrooms.

"All the staff that we have here, teachers and support staff, therapists, et cetera, are the same as before. We didn't want to make any changes to what was here, we wanted to bring the kids back to school with the people they know.

"The only new people they will see here are today are me and a new grade one teacher, who had applied previously. We are looking for one more teacher, for the intermediate level."

The Emirati HA, who had sponsored the school under the previous regime, revealed that he had stepped down.

"I'm not involved any more," he said. "I am very pleased that Dubai Education has come to help us and everything is back to normal." He said he had not been in touch with Dr Reynolds since he "disappeared".

For his part, Dr Reynolds, who is now in Australia, has claimed he was involved in the effort to save St Andrews.

"The leadership of the school and I have not fallen out but been considering options for the future of the school," he wrote in an email to The National.

At a meeting with parents last week, the head teacher, Barbara Blake, went to considerable lengths to distance the school from Dr Reynolds.