Ex students allege bullying and have complained about attitudes to sexuality, discrimination
June 1, 2023
Suzan Delibasic, Susie O’Brien
FORMER MOUNT SCOPUS STUDENTS HAVE CALLED ON THE SCHOOL’S PRINCIPAL RABBI JAMES KENNARD TO RESIGN IMMEDIATELY AFTER AN EXPLOSIVE REPORT INTO THE HANDLING OF CHILD SAFETY COMPLAINTS.
Former Mount Scopus students have called on the school’s principal Rabbi James Kennard to resign immediately in the wake of a damning report into the school’s handling of child safety complaints.
More than seven former students detailing serious allegations of bullying, complaints about attitudes to sexuality and academic discrimination have spoken to the Herald Sun.
It comes after the Herald Sun revealed the full findings of the Child Wise review into the culture at the school earlier this week. The report revealed a “lack of appropriate response by leaders to serious complaints and allegations” regarding child safety over several years.
The school said Rabbi Kennard will remain in place to implement the report’s 49 recommendations, a process which is well underway.
Sources close to the school’s board say community feeling is against Rabbi Kennard remaining in his position until February, calling on him to resign immediately.
A former student, 22, who graduated from the school in 2019, said the school took no action after he was “continuously” bullied for several years by a group of students.
“I reported it to my teachers and they didn’t take the bullying seriously,” he said.
“They made me feel like I was the one who had done something wrong for coming forward,” he said.
The former student also alleged that school leaders tried to convince some students not to undertake VCE to protect the school’s overall ATAR.
“There were some students who were struggling academically and they were aggressively told not to undertake VCE, which was wrong as they should’ve helped students with their studies.”
The former student also called on the school’s principal to resign in the wake of the Child Wise report.
“The school’s culture is something that needs to change immediately and it starts from the top, the best thing for the school is a new principal.”
Another former student, 18, who attended the school since kinder, said some teachers “purposefully” misgendered students. “If a student’s pronoun was they/them, they would not use their pronouns and instead discriminate against them by making hurtful comments,” the former student said.
“The school needs to become accepting and change from the toxic environment it currently has.”
The Herald Sun has also seen letters written to Rabbi Kennard and the Mount Scopus board expressing concern over the school’s treatment of same-sex attracted students dating as far back as 2013.
One letter written by a former student of the college objected to the Rabbi’s comparison of homosexuality with a Shabbat violation. Former students also objected to Rabbi Kennard’s signatory of a statement of principles that states that same-sex interactions are prohibited and that same-sex orientation “may greatly increase the risk of suicide among teenagers in our community”.
Despite this, the statement also says same-sex attracted individuals should be treated with dignity and respect.
Commenting on these claims behalf of the board of Mount Scopus, president Amy Hershan said: “Child safety is the school’s highest priority. All children and young people, regardless of their age, gender, ability, race, or sexual orientation, have the right to be safe and feel valued.
“The Board has tasked Rabbi James Kennard with overseeing the full implementation of all 49 of the recommendations of the Child Wise assessment including around complaints mechanisms, bullying, culture and inclusion, governance, student wellbeing and trust.
“The implementation of the recommendations is well advanced and is expected to be completed by the end of this year,” Ms Hershan said.
“We are taking a whole-of-school community approach to creating an environment that celebrates diversity. We are striving to involve students, staff and families through a wide range of initiatives including education, teacher training, and increasing student agency.
“Pleasingly, the feedback we are getting from current students about the changes we are implementing is positive. However we recognise that we still have more to do, and that work to create a culture in which every child can thrive will be ongoing,” she said. “An external search for Rabbi Kennard’s successor is well underway. It is the Board’s vision that new leadership will build on the school’s commitment to excellence as we strive to be a Modern Orthodox Jewish school that is safe and inclusive for all.” Ms Hershan also responded to the allegations of academic discrimination.
“The school is very proud of the fact we are not a select entry school. We work with every student to reach their potential,” she said.
“We take very seriously the balance between academic outcomes and student wellbeing. Our student services department works with many students and their families on individual learning plans and pathways. In some isolated cases, a student and their family may conclude that doing an unscored VCE is in the best long term interests of the child and the school unequivocally supports those decisions.”