x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Runaway education boss also abandoned Abu Dhabi school, say parents

Parents of children with special needs lost tens of thousands of dirhams after Christopher Reynolds closed his school in the capital in February.

The Abu Dhabi branch of the British Institute for Learning Development, run by owner Christopher Reynolds, closed in February.
The Abu Dhabi branch of the British Institute for Learning Development, run by owner Christopher Reynolds, closed in February.

DUBAI // Parents of children with special needs have lost tens of thousands of dirhams in pre-paid fees after a school in Abu Dhabi closed and its boss fled the country.

Their plight has emerged in the wake of the row over St Andrews School in Dubai, which was also run by the British Institute for Learning Development (Bild).

St Andrews closed on September 5 amid accusations that the Bild managing director Christopher Reynolds had absconded with all its funds. The school was rescued by Dubai Education and is now operating normally. Dr Reynolds denies any wrongdoing.

There was no reprieve, however, for the Abu Dhabi branch of Bild. It closed in February and some parents have still not been able to find new schools for their children.

Dr Reynolds told parents the school in a villa on 22nd Street in Khalifa City A was moving to new premises, and many paid the fees for the next term. The school closed, but the move did not happen.

Former employee Fiona Vaughan said: “He closed the Abu Dhabi branch of Bild a week after collecting fees from the parents … leaving families without schooling and without reimbursement of their fees.”

Another former employee, who worked at the school for three months before it closed, said: “Parents and staff were not warned about the closure, staff wages had not been paid and parents who had paid fees lost money.

“The children were left in the same situation [as those in Dubai], but no one stepped in and saved it. Some of these children now have no school.

“There were 12 parents who had paid fees and between 10 and 20 parents who were owed therapy fees they had paid in advance that he had run off with.”

Christian and Connie Tjenderesa, whose eight-year-old daughter Clivenne attended the school, were among those who lost out. Clivenne has a hearing problem, and Mrs Tjenderesa has given up her job as a dentist to care for her.

On February 2 the couple paid Bild Dh18,000 to cover the fees for the third term. Dr Reynolds sent a letter to them and other parents confirming the plans to move to new premises. The letter said: “It will also not be too much longer before we are in a position to move into our new centre.”

Mrs Tjenderesa said: “Dr Reynolds misled us by telling us he was moving to another location and that’s why we paid the fees. My daughter was a student along with 11 other children. Others went for therapy, it was a school and also a therapy centre.”

The couple have been able to place their daughter at another therapy centre but have not been able to find her a new school.

“We don’t have any options here in Abu Dhabi, it’s very frustrating,” said Mrs Tjenderesa. “Clivenne is not receiving any education and it is very worrying.”

Last week The National revealed how a battle over child support arising from the divorce of Dr Reynolds and his wife Sheena had triggered the problems at St Andrews. The Tjenderesas, who are from Indonesia, believe the marriage split also caused the difficulties at the Abu Dhabi branch.

“That’s when the problems began,” said Mrs Tjenderesa. “Before then my daughter was happy there and I was satisfied as there was a good team, but their personal problem became our problem.”

Dr Reynolds, who is no longer in the UAE, declined to comment.

csimpson@thenational.ae