BRIGHTON Secondary College has once again come under fire as more shocking claims of antisemitic bullying have surfaced. The allegations have raised the “extreme concern” of Victorian Education Minister James Merlino who has now launched an independent investigation.
The family of a Jewish year 8 student have shared their experiences of antisemitic bullying which are said to have begun at the school last year, and have recently culminated in criminal charges.
The claims follow The AJN’s exclusive report last week which revealed that two Jewish brothers at the school allegedly endured years of antisemitism in the form of verbal abuse and physical harassment. It is also alleged that Brighton Secondary College principal Richard Minack, several coordinators and teachers knew of the allegations yet did not seriously act upon them.
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In the latest case, the year 8 student was allegedly called a “dirty Jew”, spat on and was shoved. His locker was apparently spat on, and his bullies would jingle money in their pockets as they passed him in class. Comments were made by pupils in physical education class that if money was left at the end of the running track, the Jewish boy would run faster.
The abuse progressed as the student’s family says he received violent voice messages on his phone and Snapchat which threatened to harm him. Then, in March this year, two of the bullies allegedly entered the classroom of the Jewish boy when the teacher’s back was turned, smacked the boy multiple times on the head, then pushed his belongings off his desk and fled.
From August 2019, the parents say they raised each incident to Minack, and at times also the assistant principal. On each occasion, the parents were told the reports would be followed up and the alleged bullies would be spoken to – but it continued.
Then, in April of this year, the 14-year-old Jewish boy was brutally attacked by a group of five bullies from the school.
“The bullies had enlisted the assistance of a girl from their year level to lure our son to a park in the middle of the night,” shared the parents.
“On social media, she asked our son to meet her, and when he arrived she was nowhere to be seen. As our son was leaving to go home, the five bullies attacked him.”
They continued, “As he tried to escape, the bullies pushed him to the ground and proceeded to assault and rob him.”
They allegedly stole his jumper, shoes, wallet and bag.
“He was also verbally threatened by one of the bullies to not call the police or tell anyone. Thankfully, a local resident had heard a scuffle and called the police, who picked up our son a short time later.”
Despite police informing the school of the incident, the parents say the school did not check on their son’s welfare for one week – when they themselves prompted communication with Minack.
As students returned to face-to-face learning, the parents said they contacted the assistant principal “to seek advice on how the school would keep our son safe”.
The answer: “The best course of action was ‘to seek an alternative school’,” relayed the parents.
In a letter to Merlino submitted over the weekend, the parents wrote, “What we fail to understand, is why a rule-abiding, good student is forced to leave an institution under your portfolio when five bullies, with pending criminal charges, can safely continue their education uninterrupted?”
With the school term set to resume next week, the Jewish boy is currently left without a school.
Responding to the new claims, Merlino told The AJN, “It is extremely concerning to see a second set of very serious allegations of antisemitism at Brighton Secondary College inside a week.
“Our schools and our broader community have to address antisemitism wherever it arises. I expect nothing less.”
The AJN has also obtained an email sent to Merlino in March 2019 from a father of two students who claims that in a speech made to the whole school, Minack cited Nazi propaganda referring to “Jews as ‘subhuman’ multiple times, and sought to legitimise his German father’s active role in World War II to 1400 children, aged 12-18”.
“Without that done in a sensitive, educational context, it is dangerous and nasty,” the father later told The AJN.
In the email to Merlino, the father wrote, “As a parent of children who were deeply shocked and upset, I would like to know what procedures are in place for all Brighton Secondary students (and particularly those of colour and of Jewish heritage) to be appropriately counselled, informed and educated about the unacceptability of these remarks and to provide transparent information and reassurance to them, teachers and parents that their school is a safe place free from such disgusting rhetoric?”
The father said that he complained to the Department of Education and Training (DET) at least twice on the matter, and yet, “no action was taken at school”.
When approached by The AJN, Minack did not deny the new claims, instead acknowledging the seriousness of the allegations and reaffirming his cooperation with the investigation.
“We work hard to tackle discrimination at our school and we will continue to do so,” he added.
“Disappointed and ashamed” by the reports of antisemitic bullying, a current Year 12 student reached out to The AJN illustrating many instances of “casual racism” at the school, with “many teachers going along with it, saying it’s clearly “a joke””.” He also spoke of the swastikas “all over the toilets” and says he has seen them daubed on disused buildings, windows and tables, “left for months on end”.
“The only reason they haven’t been taken down is because they haven’t sent shockwaves through the school. It has established a culture where we have gotten used to this stuff.”
Meanwhile, the family of the two Jewish boys reported in last week’s AJN have refused to participate in the DET investigation when they could not be of assured complete transparency and knowledge of the outcomes at the close of the investigation. As such, they called for a full, independent judicial inquiry into the incidents at Brighton and in other state schools, and a review of the DET.
Speaking on behalf of the family, Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich said “This thorough and far-reaching inquiry must find out who knew what, and when and deal with this as an issue that is affecting the whole school system, rather than treating it as an individual problem at a single school.”
“This is the best way to repair the wrong of the past, to make genuine changes to what is a rapidly deteriorating problem, and to help the survivors get justice and get on a road to healing. When no effective action is taken, it only leads to normalisation, escalation, and eventually, institutionalisation as we believe is the case in Victoria.”
In response to the family’s request, Merlino announced an independent investigation “to get to the bottom of what has happened, and to examine how the school has handled these troubling allegations”.
“It is important to me that the families involved in these incidents have faith that any investigation is fair and transparent,” he said.
Enough is enough. Schools should be safe places to teach kids about different cultures to combat racism and antisemitism but instead our Victorian education system has enabled this shocking behaviour to occur. #Springst @aus_jewishnews https://t.co/lTZSZH4HLM
— David Southwick MP (@SouthwickMP) July 9, 2020
It is understood that the independent investigator will be engaged in the coming days.
“I urge any current or former students with similar complaints to contact the Department’s dedicated Report Racism hotline so they can put you in touch with the independent investigator,” said Merlino, reiterating that antisemitism is “totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated at this or any other school”.
“My message is clear: you will be taken seriously, and your complaints will be thoroughly investigated.”
The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV), United Jewish Education Board (UJEB), Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) and Zionism Victoria expressed shock and serious concern at the allegations revealed last week.
In a joint statement, state Liberal MPs David Southwick and James Newbury said, “Every student deserves to be safe in the classroom, schoolyard and within the school community.”
“Daniel Andrews must urgently and personally address the systemic failings with the Department of Education that has enabled repeated cases of anti-Semitic bullying to occur.”
“Enough is enough.”
The DET’s Report Racism hotline: (03) 7022 5500. In an emergency, contact Victoria Police on 000.