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Sunnie Kahle: Virginia private school response about tomboy in the news

Students, teachers and parents gather at Timberlake Christian School during See You At the Pole Day in September 2013
Students, teachers and parents gather at Timberlake Christian School during See You At the Pole Day in September 2013
Sandy Wallace

On March 25, 2014, WSET-TV featured an interview with 8-year-old Sunnie Kahle and her grandparents, after the grandparents received a letter from the girl's private school in Lynchburg, Va.

Clips from the letter Sunnie's grandparents received from Timberlake Christian School's K-8 principal were included in the newscast. According to the letter, Sunnie will be refused enrollment next year unless she adheres to the school's "biblical standards."

The original news story on WSET also included interviews with Doris and Carroll Thompson, the girl's grandparents who are raising her, and with Sunnie Kahle.

According to Sunnie's grandparents, Sunnie's short hair and tomboy style of dress are the reasons for the letter they received from Timberlake Christian School.

The story has been picked up by media sources across the nation and is in the morning news feeds from many major news networks.

Public response on social media ranged from those supporting the rights of a private school to uphold biblical values to those bashing the school for not letting the girl be who she wants to be.

Schools rarely comment on matters involving students, citing privacy issues. Public schools boards hold private closed sessions on matters involving students following public meetings.

There are often two sides to the story when a child is removed from any school, whether public or private. Although parents and grandparents can share their side in the press, schools are generally unable to comment.

Following the broadcast on WSET, Timberlake Christian School issued this press release, dated March 25, 2014, on its website.

"We are heart-broken that Sunnie’s grandparents have made her the subject of a
public discussion. We regret that they made the decision to withdraw Sunnie
immediately from Timberlake Christian Schools.

For confidentiality reasons related to a minor, it is not possible for us to explain in
full detail the volume of documentation we have concerning the situation that the
grandparents have made public. There is much more to this story than has been
revealed related to Sunnie and the classroom environment. Our documentation shows a
significantly different narrative than the one portrayed in the original news report.

You can be assured that we have cared for Sunnie and worked with her
grandparents for several years to assist them. Our TCS teachers and administrators love
Sunnie and we can assure everyone that this has never been an issue of hair length or
boots as it has been portrayed. It has been our constant desire over the last several
years to work with this family and to shepherd this precious little girl in a way consistent
with traditional values.

As a private Christian school, we have the responsibility to all our students to
assist parents to instill the Christian values upon which our school is founded.

We reiterate that the decision to remove Sunnie was entirely that of the

Who's right and who's wrong? Without knowing all of the details, it's impossible for an outsider to say. Sunnie and her grandparents portrayed an image of discrimination due to the child's apparel and hairstyle. The school cites Sunnie's behavior in the classroom and their desire to resolve the issues and work with Sunnie and her grandparents.

What do you think? Should a private school be permitted to set rules based on biblical values? Did the school overreact? Which side do you take in this discussion?

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