St Johns ‘was wrong, is sorry’: Anglican bishop on racism at elite school

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Bishop Steve Moreo of the Anglican Church of South Africa PHOTO: Anglicanjoburg.org.za
Bishop Steve Moreo of the Anglican Church of South Africa PHOTO: Anglicanjoburg.org.za

A senior Anglican Church leader has slammed the way in which an elite boys school handled a much-publicised race row last week.

In a letter addressed to members of the St John’s community on behalf of the school’s council, the bishop of Johannesburg, Dr Steve Moreo, acknowledged that the process followed by the school in handling the matter was flawed.

St John’s College in Johannesburg, an Anglican school, found that geography teacher Keith Arlow had victimised pupils based on their race in February, but he was initially allowed to continue teaching.

An incensed Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi stepped into the fray and, subsequently, Arlow was fired with immediate effect.

Read: Racist St John’s College teacher fired with immediate effect

The school is one of South Africa’s most expensive. Tuition fees alone are about R135 000 a year for a Grade 12 pupil.

Moreo unreservedly apologised to the St Johns community on behalf of the council and said the council “deeply regretted the racially derogatory and inappropriate remarks, the way in which we handled the process and especially the hurt of the boys and parents”.

Moreo said they were “deeply mindful of the fractures currently so evident in our school community as a result of the school teacher racism matter and the school’s handling of it”.

The council met on July 31. The meeting was a scheduled one, but the only thing on the agenda was the “extraordinary and distressing circumstances currently prevailing in the school community”, said Moreo.

At the meeting, the council acknowledged that the school did not:

  • Institute a disciplinary process as soon as the investigation was complete;
  • Pursue precautionary suspension for the teacher concerned pending finalisation of the hearing;
  • Keep the broader community appropriately informed of the process;
  • Give the external disciplinary chairperson a mandate to make a recommendation as to sanction; and
  • Appreciate the impact of this matter on the school community as a whole.

Moreo said although he and the council “do not believe that the utterances of one teacher define or reflect the culture and ethos of St John’s” they acknowledged that it had caused people to doubt the school.

“We are resolved to restore [the community’s trust]. We acknowledge that healing hurt, building trust and bridging divisions will take time and will be achieved more by what we do in the future than by what we say.”

The school has resolved to take the following steps to address this:

  • Immediate structured engagement with the school community;
  • A rigorous transformation and diversity process which includes a review of the policies and procedures within the college, particularly pertaining to racism, sexism, homophobia and misogyny, and how they are implemented to protect everyone but most particularly pupils;
  • Unequivocal rejection of all forms of racism, sexism, homophobia and misogyny; and
  • A critical analysis of the governance structures within the school to ensure that we have the capacity and resources to take the school forward.

An internal St John’s community meeting (between parents, alumni, staff and pupils) will take place tonight at the school. The primary purpose of the “town hall meeting” will be to hear from all stakeholder groups and to share an account of how the process unfolded.

“We acknowledge that this matter has caused some members of our community to question leadership and governance of the school ... While it behoves us as council to continuously reflect on leadership and governance and particularly in current circumstances, we also have a duty to do so responsibly and after due consideration of all relevant facts and voices in our community,” said Moreo

“We commit to ensuring that this critical reflection, which is ongoing, will take account of the structured engagement and transformation and diversity processes referred to.”

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