Exit Stage Left Part Five
If you have not read the other posts in this series from the beginning, please go back to this post first::
Talked At and Talked Over
During the Christmas Holiday we learned so much more of what had been happening to our son. We knew about the tutorials and how utterly demoralised he had felt on returning to ballet after the illness, but at the time we did not know about the ballet teacher revealing to the entire class the details of the telephone conversation he had listened to, nor did we know about the line, ‘why are you scared of me? I love you. I love you’. We also found out that it was the second tutorial which had provided the worst moment and the most destructive experience for our a thirteen year old - an age when children are crucially still trying to make sense of the world. In his view, the teacher in this second tutorial was cruel and abusive. She is indeed one of those adults who wears her authority with the same relish as she wears her plastic red finger nails. In meetings, I have found myself handling her with care; and I am an adult rather than a teenager in the unhappy predicament of living away from home, so therefore requiring the adults in his life to be more compassionate and reliable rather malicious and harmful. So, over an unhappy and uncertain Christmas break, we begin to understand just how our son had been made to suffer.
The meeting with the director of the school approached. There was an almost comical exchange of emails between me and one of his assistants when I learned that they intended for one of the members of staff who featured in the complaint to be present in the role of scribe. At length, I pointed out that while I had no objection to her attendance, it would be extremely uncomfortable for her. Even after I had pointed out that they had a duty of care to one one of their employees, to not put her through unnecessarily duress, I was assured that all was fine, and that she would indeed attend.
The day of the meeting arrived. Before the meeting we were greeted by another member of the senior management team who introduced herself to us as the scribe. They had, for some reason, decided to spare the other person the awful experience of being directly complained about. No mention of the switch in staff was made, and I didn't want to draw any one’s attention to it. I wanted to get this matter settled once and for all. I only mention it now because it is typical of how the ballet school conduct themselves. There is no sense of a more professional way to behave: meetings are cancelled at the last moment, or people you expect to be there are not, or your conversations are listened in to, or confidential information is publicly disclosed.. It is as if the gene in their organisation which regulates propriety has mutated into pompous self-regard.
The meeting went badly. My written complaint against the school was clean and clinical. I used the language of their own policy documents to point out everything in their own assessment process that was not adhered to. But, the director used his own language to explain the events. There was no mention of ‘formative’ or ‘summative’ assessment; he talked instead about ‘formal’ or ‘informal’ tutorials. No one discussed our son’s glandular fever or his recovery. He said it was normal practice for a member of staff to be allowed to overhear a phone conversation as it saved time in the long run communicating what had been said; my need for privacy (as declared in the school's own policy documents) did not seem to concern him. I was talked at, interrupted and talked over. At several points in the director’s monologue I found a brief space to mention that what he was saying didn't actually make any sense. At these points the other staff member - who had introduced herself as the note taker and who has nothing to do with the ballet side of the school - took it upon herself to try and explain. I guess that she was not such an impartial note-taker after all.
Incidentally, this is the first time that they had conceded that someone else was in the room during my initial phone conversation. Up until this point, it had been denied, but the teacher’s public revelations of the content of the conversation meant that it was blatantly obvious that he heard everything. I decided that it was expedient at this point to not remind them that I had been lied to up until now. Although it would have been really satisfying, I decided to have more restraint than to rub their proverbial noses in it.
At one point the director’s tone changed. He seemed almost cheerful. He actually made eye-contact with us for a brief moment. There was something he wanted to say about our son’s behaviour. He seemed almost cheerful as prepared to deliver his bombshell: Our son had made a confession to the ballet teacher. He had taken the teacher into his confidence and told him that he had been lying to us.
We asked about the content of these lies.
Well, they didn't know the specifics.
We asked to what end he would have lied to us.
Well, he didn't want us to come to the teacher parent meetings - so he lied to us.
But he did want us to come to the meetings. That was why he sent us all those emails in block capitals telling us that we HAD to be there. This vague counter-allegation made no sense.
During the months ahead, this allegation is never substantiated, nor is it retracted. It is a lie. Neither the school nor I realise it at this point, but they have just provided me with the reason why our complaint can never be settled.
At the end of the meeting, I present them with another written complaint.. I make the comments made by the ballet teacher (I love you and Why are you scared of me.) part of the formal process. We are also told at the end of the meeting that our son is sick. He has a heavy cold and the nurse wants him to be sent home. It is a bit awkward because we hadn't actually told him that we were coming into school for the meeting. He has a brief meeting with the member of staff who had been the ‘scribe’ in order to discuss details of a teacher telling a student he loves him. I have to stop this meeting because she doesn't stick to questions covering the subjects we had agreed on before bringing him in. We then bring him home.
None of us realise at this point in time that he is never going to return to school as a pupil ever again. It is what happens next that makes it impossible to allow him to return.