Harvest Horror – Response to My Complaint


brush-under-carpetWell, no sooner had I posted the update saying I was still waiting for a response to my complaint, than a response arrives in the post. Are you ready? The first section related to an anomaly they found in their complaints procedure which meant that my complaint was addressed under Stage Two, which would normally be heard by the head teacher. Since my complaint was about the head teacher, it was dealt with by the Chair of Governors.

The rest of the letter is as follows (names removed):

 

In essence your complaint is in respect of the conduct or approach used by [the head teacher] when you were breast feeding [sic] your baby at the Harvest Festival. I understand that this had caused two of the pupils to become distracted and they began to act quite silly.

You claim that [the head teacher] told you to “be more discreet or move” but that she could not say how this could be done.You agreed with [the head teacher] to discuss further after the Harvest Festival in her office. In that meeting you both exchanged views on breast feeding and [the head teacher] explained her position to you in relation to her role in running the school and taking everyone’s interests into account.

In your letter of complaint you also mention a number of postings on Facebook where others have expressed their views on this issue.

A letter was sent home to all parents on this subject and you received a hand written apology from [the head teacher].

In your letter of complaint you expressed your views on the legal rights of mothers to breastfeed and you claim that [the head teacher] has bullied you by her continually referring to other parents who have agreed with her view rather than yours.

The remedies you have asked for are as follows –

1. A full public apology.

2. A breast feeding policy for the school.

3. The inclusion of the importance of breast feeding in the Healthy Eating Module in Year 3.

 

The Investigation

During this investigation I have spoken to the Head Teacher and to as many parents and staff who were sitting nearby as it has been possible to identify. None of these actually overheard the conversation between yourself and [the head teacher].

I am reliably informed that this is not the first time anyone has breastfed at a whole school event, including services, and it has not presented a problem in the past. I am therefore satisfied that the request to be more discreet would have been merely to prevent the children becoming more disruptive during the Harvest Festival rather than to prevent you from breast feeding. Furthermore, there would have been no intention for you to move to the back of the room which your letter of complaint infers.

With regard to the letter that was sent to all parents and the comments posted on various internet sites it gives me great concern as to how the situation has been interpreted. I am afraid I am unable to see how you have interpreted the following wording taken from [the head teacher]’s letter to parents “during a whole school event such as Nativities or Harvest Festivals, it would be sensitive to sit one row back so that the children are not distracted” as “breastfeeding at occasions such as Harvest Festivals and Nativity Plays was not appropriate”  and it seems that the request for all parents to be sensitive has been interpreted as an invitation for “parents to agree with her [the head teacher].

According to the people I have spoken to, the letter from [the head teacher] does not seem to have been interpreted by most parents as “bullying” or as discriminating against breastfeeding. I would like to reassure you that bullying or discriminating against breast feeding will not be tolerated by the Governing Body.

 

The Remedies

1. As you are aware, [the head teacher] has already apologised to you for the upset and it would be inappropriate for [the head teacher] to make a public apology. This is a private matter and any investigation via the School Complaints Procedure is treated as confidential and will not b made public by the school.

3. [sic] Your suggestion of introducing a breast feeding policy in the school will be referred to the full governors meeting for their consideration. If they decide that a breast feeding policy is necessary, a new policy will be developed and approved at a subsequent full Governors meeting. If you would like t have some input into the development of a policy, the governors would welcome any suggestions you wish to make and take these into account.

3. Staff will be asked to look at including breastfeeding in Healthy Eating lessons. However, this will depend on the curriculum already developed by the staff in the school.

 

I hope this covers your concerns and that we may move forward in the ways I have suggested above. However, if you are not satisfied with the findings of my investigation, you are entitled to ask for this matter to be heard by a Governing Body Appeal Panel. If you decide that you wish for this matter to be heard by the Governing Body Appeal Panel, please let me know within the next 10 school days and submit any relevant evidence that you with the Governors to consider.

Yours sincerely

[name]

Chair of Governors

 

So there you have it.

I don’t know where to start with this. He’s spoken to several parents, none of whom were involved, but he hasn’t spoken to me. He has spoken to the head teacher, and the story has changed yet again. Now apparently, the year 6 boys were being silly. They weren’t.

I accused her of bullying by continually referring to parents who agreed with her, not me – except that this is not what I said. I said that she was trying to bully me into accepting her view by continually telling me that other parents would support her.

There’s no attempt to discuss the legal position, (although I hear on the grapevine, the head of Governors is convinced that no law has been broken) and I am told that there was no intention that I should move to the back, even though this was said to me.

I have misinterpreted the letter sent home and taken it to mean that breastfeeding at events is not appropriate. No. I was told by the head teacher that it was inappropriate.

Of course, most parents would not see that this whole situation was bullying, because they were unaware of the majority of it, and only knew about the letter they received. I have not led some campaign to tell all parents about it, and so all that the majority of the 200 families know about is the letter from school. Likewise, I suspect that the majority do not regard it as discriminatory, because they are unaware that breastfeeding is protected in law to stop this kind of thing happening.

So, no apology. The governors will decide if they need a breastfeeding policy and I suspect that they will decide they do not. Likewise, staff will be asked to consider adding breastfeeding to the curriculum. I doubt it will happen.  Looks like this was a box ticking exercise to me.

So, I’m asking for your advice, dear readers – where do I go from here? Do I

  • drop it
  • appeal (what evidence will be needed?)
  • pursue the legal aspect (how much will that cost?)
  • take up the press on their offer to cover this story
  • name and shame
  • something else?

 

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27 comments on “Harvest Horror – Response to My Complaint

  1. Abbie Stocker on said:

    I think you should appeal and speak to the press. Also look into the legal aspect and decide if it is something you can afford / want to pursue.

    • I think the line by line response you’ve posted here is exacly the sort of response you should send back, again reiterating exactly what you want and why you feel upset. I think it would be sensible to follow their complaints procedure so go on to the appeal process as advised. good luck!

  2. Kirsty Buckley on said:

    Can you not find eyewitnesses? People sitting next to you who could back you up? Without that, it’s her word against yours really, and I’m afraid that it would most likely be in her favour. I feel that given the amount of breastfeeding discrimination articles in the media that seem to get unfavourable responses, this could possibly backfire.

    I do support you, however negative my comment seems, and I really hope you win against this awful teacher, I just want you to do it with a full arsenal.

    Good luck x

  3. I would speak to the press as well as taking this further. I also agree with previous poster on seeking advice on the legal aspect, to see if this is worth persuing. I’m not sure what evidence they want you to provide since it is clearly your word against the head teacher (& her ever changing story). I would suggest that the whole tone of this letter is dismissive and tries to undermine your confidence in taking this further. I wouldn’t be prepared to quit at this point.

  4. Don’t give up! What happened to you was not on and the letter you got was not an apology.. Speak to the press and appeal.. You’re not escalating (not yet anyway), you just want your complaint to be dealt with properly..

  5. Yolanda Forster on said:

    Take it to the press. Try to speak to someone like Annalisa Barbieri who understands breastfeeding and educational issues. she is also on Twitter.

  6. Rachael on said:

    To be honest if it was me I would request a face to face meeting with a chair of Governors (and others if possible) to put across your side and point out the inaccuracies, that may put it to bed faster than anything else!

  7. Sam Privy on said:

    What are you trying to achieve, this is what you need to ask yourself.

  8. As a Chair of Governors to my boys’ infant school, and a mother that breastfed until my youngest was 3, I would not let it drop. I would request a meeting with the Chair and definitely take it further!!

  9. Lorraine on said:

    I don’t know what to advise but I wish you good luck in making your decision.

    These people sound like bureaucratic imbeciles. However, I’m sure that will be the last time that the head teacher ever asks a breastfeeding mother to change anything she’s doing. In that respect, you have changed the world a tiny bit and you should be applauded for taking this matter further when so many don’t.

  10. I have just been reading your story, and am so saddened by what has happened and how you were treated. The Chair clearly hasn’t quite grasped the situation and that is a shame, the head teacher has NOT apologised for her actions and made assurances it won’t happen again to other mothers. She has merely apologised for any offence caused which is a fob off. Have you considered getting some free legal advice from a charity like Maternity Action (0845 600 85 33). They may be able to help you liaise with the school instead of you feeling bullied from the head teacher, the Chair and their supporters.
    So sad that they feel they are “protecting” the children by not allowing them to witness breast feeding.
    Keep fighting! We have to protect our children from this narrow minded nonsense!

  11. As a mother of children that attend the school in question, I would like to know what you wish to achieve from all of this and what your end goal is? As far as I am aware, you continued to breast feed your children regardless of the request to move/stop ( I don’t know what was actually said as I was not within earshot of the private conversation between you and the headmistress). My personal belief is that no malice was intended on behalf of the head and that this situation is now getting totally out of hand. You have had an apology that you don’t accept due to how the apology is worded. You thought it was not ‘right’ to publish the apology on here but yet it is ‘right’ for you to publish the letter that was sent home to parents (you didn’t even have the courtesy to remove the name of the school or the name of the headmistress when you first posted it and it is also ‘right’ to publish the response of the Chair of Governors. It all seems a little one sided to be honest and there are 2 sides to every story. I am not anti breast feeding by any means and I attempted to breast feed all 3 of my children but due to a medical condition could not exclusively breast feed.

    • What I want out this is for the school to abide by the law. As you said, you weren’t present for any of the conversations, and so don’t know what was said (not all of which has been posted here). Regardless of the fact that I continued to feed my children, the school has now made its position on breastfeeding at such events clear; a position which is in breach of the law. Whilst I may feel comfortable ignoring the head teacher’s commands when they break law, not everyone would and it is diktats such as this which damage women’s confidence to feed in public. Schools are not exempt from the law. I have not, at any point, named the school, although I have every right to do so. I did publish the letter sent home to parents, yes – after the school posted it on their website.

      I don’t accept the apology because it isn’t an apology – not for what was said or done, but for how I felt about it. That’s not an apology. You seem to think that I am wrong to publish the school’s responses, which give their view of the situation, whilst simultaneously suggesting it’s all one sided. It can’t be both. I know that the accepted wisdom at the school is never to challenge the head teacher on anything. Parents who feel comfortable with that are more than welcome to continue. I do not feel comfortable with it.

  12. Personally I’d take it to the press. I agree that it has just been a box ticking exercise for them. It would be interesting to find out which parents they actually spoke to.

  13. I would be tempted to take it to the press, but it won’t achieve what you want really.

    Bottom line is the head teacher was breaking the law through her actions, the governing body seem to have taken a rather biased point of view on the case, ignoring (or choosing to ignore) the legal implications of the head’s actions.

    Please take this forward and appeal! It is not right for this to be shoved under the carpet like this. You, like any other breastfeeding mother, are worthy of being treated with respect for nurturing and feeding your baby, not ostracised then demeaned with such response.
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  14. I have to say that as I WAS indeed sat very close to Mahala during this Harvest Festival. Close enough to touch her indeed. Unfortunately, I didn`t hear the conversation between her and the headteacher…which was NOT private as we were in the hall at school. However, I was told of this immediately. Neither did I see ANY of the children turn around and begin to act silly or be disruptive. This is untrue. Why would they? There was nothing to see. I was only aware that she Mahala was breastfeeding when her daughter was on her lap and this was not because one could see `flesh`..but because I KNEW what was happening. Knowing and seeing are two entirely different things. This is a flouting of the law and should be addressed as such. So far it hs been a complete whitewash.

  15. Pushing forward will be hard, and tiring. It’s a commitment you have to make early on. I was the victim of a crime and it would have been so much easier to just drop it. I had to make sure I was committed and there was always that thing in the back of my mind saying just let it go, why are you making such a big deal of it. The hardest part was testifying in court with my whole family in evidence and rather unsupportive. I suppose people called Rosa Parks an attention grabber too. I always link this issue of breastfeeding in my mind to the issue of racism in America during those times. It IS discrimination and unfair treatment, but you have to decide for yourself if it’s worth it to you to bear the burden of calling those in power out. It is never an enjoyable task, no matter what anyone says. The choice is yours to make Mahala.

  16. Lee Williams on said:

    I am also a parent at this school and feel that this whole situation requires some balance. With two children at the school, I am really disapointed that you feel able to speak about the head teacher and the school in this way. I know of no other school in the area that offers the opportunities of this school. I am sure that most other parents of the school agree with me and would also agree that most of the opportunities and experiences at this school are as a result of the amazing attitude and commitment from the head teacher. I am not sure where you are heading with this complaint? I do see your point and I completely understand that you cleary feel aggrieved. I think a discussion with the head teacher and letter to the Governors is completely the right course of action as with any valid concern (after all, we are all invited to share any concerns, no matter how small, at the end of every single school letter). However, where your case falls to pieces is the way in which you have conducted yourself. I did not know who you were but after reading the comments you have made on here and on the various Facebook pages you use as an outlet, you have only succeeded in inciting a cyber campaign of bullying and abuse. There has been absolutely no opportunity for the Head teacher to respond, however, you have been happy to allow people to call her a multitude of abusive words without challenge. May I also quote you directly? “She is a 5* Moron, and an A class Derp”. I am afraid that if any laws have been broken here, you may need to look a little closer to home because this is slander!. Just as a point of interest, My wife breast fed both of our children and was asked to be an ambassador for breastfeeding. We both agreed that breast feeding needs to be high profile but also agreed that your actions across your blog and facebook have been a disgrace and probably done more damage than good to the image of breastfeeding. Like I said, I did not know who you were but having now spoken to a few people, I think you would be suprised at how many people think that you have dealt with this badly and are not happy with the way you have portrayed this excellent school and head teacher. To finish, another direct quote of yours “This was my second choice of school”. Exactly, CHOICE, please do not keep trying to persuade people that you are so unhappy with this school!

    • gosh, such a lot to respond to here. Firstly, I would love to know where you have got your “direct quotes” because neither of them have ever been written or said by me, I can assure you. I’ve not called the head teacher any names whatsoever, and the school was actually my first choice of school. Please feel free to point me in the direction of where I can find these “quotes”.

      The opportunities available at the school have nothing whatsoever to do with this situation. I agree, there are lots of great things about the school. But that does not mean everything is rosy. The school clearly do not feel that the Equality Act 2010 applies to them. As a peer support worker, and someone who has devoted a lot of time in volunteering to help mums in their breastfeeding journey, I feel that they need to be brought to book on this. I’m sorry if you think that me writing about it on my blog is unfair. However, I have every right to do so. I did so initially because I was so shocked at having been treated the way I was treated at school. I felt the need to write about it, because that is how I process things. Then I got a lot of support and people wanted to know what happened next. I have not gone to the press, as very many people have suggested I should, and in fact when the press contacted me (since someone else alerted them to this), I politely told them that I didn’t want to put the story in the paper.

      I’m well aware that some people at school think I should have kept quiet. They are wrong. Standing by and letting someone get away with discrimination is wrong.

      As for you last comment, you’ve said twice that you don’t know me, therefore I fail to see how you can possibly know how I feel about the school.

      • Firstly Lee, Slander is the spoken word. Libel is the written word. I think it is a shame that you have had to speak to people in a covert way and find out how they feel regarding this issue. Perhaps speaking to Mahala would have been a better idea? There is no issue whatsoever with the head teacher being allowed to respond. She did, by sending a letter home to parents asking for support in discriminating against breast feeding. Being asked to move, cover up hide away IS discriminating and totally against the law. There is no argument to that…none whatsoever.

        • Lee Williams on said:

          (Foofie) Slander / Libel, splitting hairs. Just to point out that I have made no attempt to covertly speak to other parents, in fact, I had virtually no interest in the matter until I realised how malicious the comments have been about the school and the head teacher. Sorry but I am a decent human being and just felt that someone should step up for the decent human being who is the head teacher.
          (Mahala) Seriously, I have no intention on this being a slanging match because I am not that interested but both of those quotes were posted on the breastfeeding mums network page on Facebook under your real name. Please don’t insult me with challenging me about the truth. As you well know, those posts have now been removed!

          • No, they weren’t posted there under my real name, because I did not say them. For someone with little interest in the matter, you’re making some interesting accusations, with nothing to back you up.

            As you also know, I emailed you at the address you provided when you posted a comment on my blog, to ask where you had seen those “quotes” so that I could address them.

            edited to add: I do now know where those comments came from, and I am clearly not who you think I am, as they were made by someone with a completely different name to me, and as far as I am aware, the comments are still on the page should you wish to check.

            Now what was that you were saying about libel (or slander, as you put it)?

          • Stonelaughter on said:

            I think you maybe have the wrong name for Mahala – she’s never posted those words – in fact I never, in the 14 years I’ve known her, heard her use the word “derp” in any context whatever.

    • I’d just like to point out that both those quotes were from ME, not Mahala. The comments are still there as I have just screenshot them 🙂 and I still stand by what I said.

  17. Well Lee…I hardly think a court of law would consider it to be `just splitting hairs`. Entirely different offences!! You say you are a decent human being?? So in that context does it make you the moral compass as to what is and is not acceptable when one has a grievance with a certain school?? As far as I am concerned Mahala is not less a decent human being than you..indeed I believe she is one of the better ones that I know.. Remarking how good the school is has no credence in this discussion. it simply isn`t relevant. I too admire your disinterest in this situation….really pleased you are not enmeshed in it.

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