How (not) to solve a complaint

Sekolah Bogor Raya considers this case closed and will not be facilitating future meeting to discuss this particular topic Email 6 June 2017 (page 1)

Sekolah Bogor Raya (SBR) is a national plus school in Bogor City, Indonesia. On 3 May 2017, SBR’s School Soccer Team (SST) released an open letter in response to my announcement that my son would be leaving SST due to repeated bullying and foul language. The excessive falsehoods in SST’s letter, together with its statement that it strongly suggest[s] that such issues be resolved together with SBR (page 2 of thread), resulted in a formal complaint (mirror link) to SBR on 8 May 2017.

The complaint detailed false information on SST’s procedures regarding bullying, and urged SBR to address the falsehoods in the letter and the bullying at SST. The complaint resulted in several emails and a meeting at SBR. During this meeting (on 24 May 2017) a second complaint concerning bullying at SST was raised. SBR unilaterally closed both complaints on 6 June 2017 (page 1).

SBR’s responses to – and unilateral closing of – the complaints provide valuable lessons on how (not) to address a complaint. This post identifies crucial flaws at SBR, including: no (public) procedures, no safeguards, contradicting claims, no specifics, a prejudiced stance, double standards, no solutions, and – ultimately – a lack of substance. The following paragraphs cover each flaw in more detail.

 

No (Public) Procedures

SBR has a written policy regarding complaints and their resolution in the Student-Parent Handbook […] The school has digested the complaint, followed our current procedures and taken appropriate action Email 6 June 2017 (page 1)

Although reps often mentioned policies and procedures regarding complaints, SBR provided neither on its website (mirror link). When asked to clarify these procedures, they only referred to SBR’s Student-Parent Handbook 2016-2017 (mirror link). However, SBR’s procedures and responsibilities regarding Complaints and their Resolution are not defined in this handbook (page 20)! (Near identical information is given in its Student-Parent Handbooks for 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.)

It’s thus not surprising that this “policy” is interpreted to suit the whims of SBR’s employees:

SBR’s lack of (public) procedures and responsibilities does not impress a complainant. It provides SBR with ample opportunity to pervert and abuse this flaw. Its – often unilateral – actions severely undermined communications and trust.

Consequently, I doubt that SBR adequately logged my complaint for monitoring and evaluation purposes, and I suspect it has been swept under the carpet. (This is the very reason why I log it her).

 

No Safeguards

SBR recognizes that there has been conflict between the SST and both Mr Bart and Mr Praveen […] there was no ill intent by the SST towards Mark or Bro Email 6 June 2017 (page 3 of thread)

A quick search on the Internet resulted in numerous websites that provide expert guidance on (a.o.) assessing bullying, engaging parents and students, and establishing an easy and confidential reporting system (see a.o. www.stopbullying.gov). However, in this case none of these safeguards were acknowledged or implemented by SBR.

Worse, SBR failed to adequately act on information/concerns:

The lack of any safeguards – such as confidentiality for complainants and procedures to minimize bullying – undermines any perception of SBR’s professionalism in dealing with complaints. The school seems to be blatantly unaware of how to address complaints in an appropriate way, despite a wealth of independent information on how to do this. In this day and age, this means that it is shockingly unprepared to address the latest trends in bulling: cyber-bullying. Parents beware!

 

Contradicting Claims

 They have stated that they both need to attend and have a right to speak. SBR agrees with their statement. Email 23 May 2017 (page 1 of thread)

The Academic Advisor was simply passing on the message from the SST Email 6 June 2017 (page 2 of thread)

Although the complaint(s) provided consistent and verifiable evidence on SST’s practices, SBR failed to reply in kind. Worse, it regularly contradicted its own claims without any evidence:

Consequently, claims by SBR – either verbal or written – carry little or no weight. Promises were not kept, verbal apologies were retracted by consecutive claims, and SBR routinely back-pedalled on earlier claims. SBR cannot be considered a reliable partner in any complaint, as any previous agreement it may void at any time!

 

No Specifics

 There have been numerous meetings with school leaders, committee members of the SST and parents from the SST. […] We feel we have done our very best to not only listen but act on your complaint.  Email 6 June 2017 (page 1 of thread)

Throughout communications, SBR failed to provide any specifics concerning the complaint(s):

Consequently, SBR provided little or no substance that supported or challenged the complaint(s). It spent months grasping at excuses not to engage in an open and constructive matter, presenting generalities and cherishing reps (hurt?) feelings. This lack of substance made a farce of its crucial role in the complaint(s).

 

Prejudiced Stance

One representative from SST is welcome to join the discussion, if so preferred. Email 20 May 2017 (page 3 of thread)

SST representatives have chosen to withdraw from the meeting due to your refusal to enter into an open dialogue with them. Email 23 May 2017 (page 1 of thread)

Note that SBR was well aware how SST committee had allowed a parent to bully another – and threaten his child with physical harm – during a previous meeting (page 1 of thread)! Yet, SBR strongly argued in favour of allowing 2 members of SST to join the May 24 meeting. In effect, SBR demanded that 2 “bullies” were to be allowed in the meeting to “clarify” their letter. The resulting 2 complainees (plus 3 SBR staff) facing of a single complainant would likely have resulted in another attempt to bully its way out of a serious problem: bullying at SST!

SBR continued to set a false narrative, despite clear objections:

This false narrative – blaming the complainant for protesting to demands set by the complainee – and its (consequent?) change of person in charge of the complaint exposes SBR’s prejudice towards complainants.

 

Double standards

The level of offenses stated in Student-Parents Handbook is for SBR students […] Concerning the complaints about SST, SBR is developing a code of conduct Email 6 June 2017 (page 3)

To provide context to the issue, I reminded SBR’s reps that my son was once suspended from SST for hitting another boy with his shoe. (I fully supported this decision, and used the opportunity to assist him on anger management.) The example highlighted the double standards used by SBR: suspension for a single incident by one player versus no suspension for repeated incidents by a group of bullies and their parents.

So far, SBR has been unable to acknowledge that it must take responsibility for the (in)actions of its clubs, and enforce its policies on (no) bullying and (no) double standards. In effect, it is unable to provide any substance to such policies and constructively engage with its clubs to minimize unacceptable behaviour by students and volunteers.

 

No Solutions

You have a club where there is now clear proof and a clear complaint being made that they are bullying. You say you do not accept bullying. So what do you do now? Meeting 24 May 2017 (verbatim transcribed)

The idea came up during that meeting to a code of conduct for players to help design and for them to sign as a type of contract to try and curb some of this behaviour. Email 15 May 2017 (page 3 of thread)

When invited to do so during the May 24 meeting, SBR neither required clarification nor objected to the evidence provided in the complaint[b]. In other words, SBR claimed to understand the issues raised and supported the evidence provided! SBR agreed that all clubs, not only SST, should put more attention on the character development of the students (transcribed verbatim).

Similarly, SBR bent over backwards to avoid any corrections on the issues at hand:

SBR is more concerned to communicate disclaimers over any (in)actions by its clubs than addressing the issues at hand. It prefers to theorize about “solutions” rather than research and implement any corrective and preventive actions. As such, It’s passive stance failed to add any practical substance or evidence to address the complaint(s).

 

Lack of Substance

The above issues may be considered a flagship example of a fundamental flaw at SBR: lack of substance. A school established over 20 years ago should have effective standard operating procedures rather than leaving it up to the ramblings of an “academic advisor”; it should have a safety committee in charge of bullying instead of enabling the bullies; it should have formal records on complaints to avoid reps contradicting each other; etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Similarly, SBR should have the necessary reference materials for parents and students instead of a photocopied hodgepodge of erroneous homework. Its clubs and volunteers should be subject to clear monitoring and evaluation, rather than the ambiguities of high level competition. And ultimately, it should aim to address a complaint together with a complainant, rather than hold exclusive meetings and unilaterally close the complaint. And last but not least, it should have decisively have addressed the foul language that has marred last years 6th grade (see images below).
   
IMHO, the abundance of fundamental flaws in the daily activities at SBR are but examples of a serious lack of substance, and ultimately a very shaky foundation on which it operates.

 

Conclusion

Sadly enough, the rather straight-forward solutions presented in the complaint(s) have been systematically ridiculed and ignored by SBR, and appear to reach far beyond the competence of the school. The lack of (public) procedures and safeguards, the contradicting claims and missing specifics, the prejudiced stance and double standards, and the lack of solutions and – ultimately – lack of substance discussed above leads to a single conclusion: SBR lacks the institutional knowledge and prowess to be an exceptional school.

Similarly, it is unable to bridge and build upon the extensive expertise of its diverse pool of parents. Worse, it alienates its parents through a systematic lack of competence and transparency. It made every mistake possible in addressing a fairly simple complaint. It’s a matter of time for a parent – or a student – to take justice in his/her own hands. My only hope at this time is that justice will occur through intervention by the authorities, before a homicide or suicide occurs.

 

Links

 

UPDATES

In July 2017, a disgruntled employee of SBR pointed me to several links that suggest the school itself was engaged in bullying, and hence may be unable to identify and implement procedures and corrective/preventive actions to address this issue:

In August 2017, rumours suggested that SBR has taken significant actions to address the issue of mismanagement of its clubs. Apparently, it has set some basic rules of engagement for volunteers to sign of. Had it jointly worked towards such a solution – rather than presenting dysfunctional excuses concerning any (in)actions by its clubs – this post would likely not have existed.

(16 August 2017: revised the erroneous month in the paragraph above.)

[a] 34:30, 34:40

[b] 44:10

 

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