HEARINGS in the Brighton Secondary College court case – in which five former Jewish students have taken legal action against the school, alleging it failed to protect them against discrimination – will continue under Justice Debra Mortimer into the new year, with court sessions scheduled for January and February, a Federal Court of Australia spokesperson has told The AJN.
Matt Kaplan, his brother Joel, Liam Arnold-Levy, Guy Cohen and Zack Snelling are suing the school and Victoria’s Department of Education and Training for negligence and failing to protect them as Jewish students under federal racial discrimination laws and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Herald Sun reported that last week, a former principal at the school, Julie Podbury, told the court that in her time as principal there, she had been reluctant to suspend students as disciplinary action because she regarded suspensions as a “reward”.
Podbury, who was principal for 19 years until 2015, gave testimony in relation to a claim by Arnold-Levy that he had complained to school authorities more than once during the final two years of her time as principal about vicious, antisemitic language used against him, such as being told to “die in an oven”, and bashing and spitting attacks on him. However, Podbury said she could not recall any complaints from the boy in that period.
In recent weeks, Jewish communal leaders have visited the Federal Court to give moral support to the ex-students. Among them was Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) president Daniel Aghion, who said afterwards that “the outcome is a matter for the court”, but “antisemitism is abhorrent and should be stamped out wherever it occurs”.
Deputy Liberal leader David Southwick, another visitor to the court, stated that “at the end of the day, our schools must be safe”.
So far during the hearings, the court has heard there had been a lack of discipline of students over a rash of swastika daubings, and that Kaplan had allegedly been subjected to a knife attack in a school bathroom.
The court heard more than 100 swastikas were scrawled on lockers, bathrooms, fences and books, yet no student got into trouble over the swastikas.
Kaplan also testified he was made to feel unsafe by principal Richard Minack’s reference to his father’s World War II German military service.
The JCCV has run a training program in partnership with Courage to Care, the ARK Centre and the Jewish Museum of Australia for staff at Brighton Secondary College to help them understand, identify and respond to antisemitism.