More measures to come, but families ‘disappointed’
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ANTISEMITIC BULLYING

More measures to come, but families ‘disappointed’

'The investigators found that while Brighton Secondary College responded promptly when alerted ... some students did not feel like they could speak up or be supported'.

Photo: Dreamstime.com
Photo: Dreamstime.com

THE independent inquiry commissioned by the Victorian Department of Education and Training (DET) into serious allegations of antisemitic bullying at Brighton Secondary College (BSC) has concluded, resulting in 18 recommendations for the school – all of which have been accepted by the DET.

Undertaken by firm Worklogic, the investigation commenced after The AJN exposed a series of allegations in July made by multiple former Jewish students of the school. The extensive list of claims spanned years, with one Jewish student said to have been lured to a park where he was robbed and beaten at night, and another allegedly threatened with a knife in a school bathroom. One boy said he was told to “Get in my oven” and had “Heil Hitler” chanted at him. Countless instances of swastikas were said to be daubed on school walls and property, and allegations of inaction were directed at the principal and coordinators.

The 124-page report shared that the DET, in conjunction with the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, will develop a plan which aims to improve understanding of the specific nature of antisemitism, its common manifestations and how it can best be addressed, and will be made available to all Victorian teachers.

Other key recommendations – several of which have been suggested for implementation across the state – include the introduction of an online form for BSC students to report antisemitic behaviour; monitoring of all school facilities to check for any antisemitic or discriminatory graffiti and ensuring its urgent removal; and a prompt review of school policies, broadening the definition of racial harassment to incorporate religious discrimination and vilification.

Courage to Care will be invited to deliver its upstander program to each year level, and then annually to year 7s; while the United Jewish Education Board will offer training to the school on responses to antisemitism and bullying.

The recommendations follow the 10-point plan that was rolled out by the DET a year ago – which comprised mandatory Holocaust education for all years 9 and 10 students in state schools and a dedicated racism reporting hotline – after The AJN uncovered shocking allegations of antisemitic bullying at Cheltenham Secondary College and Hawthorn West Primary School.

On the point of restorative justice for the alleged victims who participated in the BSC inquiry, the report recommended a forum for the six students and their families to meet with the principal, members of the school leadership and DET representatives to discuss the findings – and to “acknowledge [their] perspectives and apologise for the students having had these experiences while at the school and also, provide reassurance that further steps to address antisemitism will be implemented”.

Yet while the inquiry may have delivered the vast set of recommendations, it also deemed the school’s management of the reported antisemitic bullying as “adequate”.

In a statement issued to The AJN, Minister for Education James Merlino said, “The investigators found that while Brighton Secondary College responded promptly when alerted and their management of these incidents was adequate, some students did not feel like they could speak up or be supported.

“The investigation did acknowledge that Brighton Secondary College has a strong intolerance of antisemitism and other forms of bullying and that the school actively works to create a culture of inclusion to address any forms of intolerance where they arise.”

BSC principal Richard Minack has welcomed the recommendations, pledging to work with the DET on implementation.

“No student should ever feel unsafe at school for any reason at all and I am sorry we have had students and families feel like they were not supported and suffered distress as a result,” he said.

While intercultural adviser to the investigation Dr Andre Oboler judged the depth of understanding encompassed in the report as “exceptional”, the students and their families who contributed to the inquiry have been left feeling “deeply disappointed”.

Acting on their behalf, Slater and Gordon senior associate Jane McCullough said that while the families “applaud many of the recommendations … [it] fails to hold the leadership at the school accountable”.

“Despite finding that the students involved in the inquiry experienced a hostile environment and suffered genuine distress as a consequence, the report found the school’s response to be adequate,” said McCullough.

“This is despite the fact that the majority of the students involved in the inquiry have had to leave Brighton Secondary College due to the level of antisemitic bullying they experienced there, the college’s failure to protect them and the impact on their safety and mental health.”

McCullough told The AJN, “The families do not believe that the report and its findings go in any way far enough towards combating a significant problem of antisemitism at Brighton Secondary College, nor does it provide an acceptable outcome or justice for them.

“The families will continue to fight to be heard and for justice for their children.”

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