Bishops teacher: 'She was a very sweet girl, so we are all very shocked', parents say amid sex claims

Fiona Viotti with members of the Bishops water polo team. (Bishops yearbook)
Fiona Viotti with members of the Bishops water polo team. (Bishops yearbook)

The community of Bishops Diocesan College in Rondebosch, Cape Town is reeling in the wake of allegations of serious misconduct by a former female teacher, as 140 pupils prepare to write their matric exams at the school.

The prestigious boys' school is investigating allegations against ex-sports coach Fiona Viotti, regarding an improper relationship with an 18-year-old matric pupil.

She has resigned, but school principal Guy Pearson said earlier this week that several boys "have been affected over a number of years".

READ | Bishops teacher: Several boys have been 'affected over a number of years', says school

He asked for pupils to come forward and assist them with their investigation into the claims.

She also resigned from her managerial position at Western Province Schools Water Polo last week.

Viotti is the daughter of Dave Mallett, who is a history teacher at the school and coaches the first team rugby side, and the granddaughter of Anthony Mallett, the school's headmaster from 1964 to 1982, Sunday Times reported. 

While speculation on what happened is rife, several parents of old boys, speaking to News24 on condition of anonymity, said that the news had sparked much debate and concern.

"I think it is tragic for everyone concerned," one parent said.

'We feel for her parents'

Another parent, whose two sons attended the school six years ago, said the news had come as a shock to her.

"Fiona was my one son's history teacher for two years... She was a very sweet girl so we are all very shocked to hear what had been happening," she said.

"We really feel for her parents, her hubby's parents and also all the boys and their families."

One mother though, whose boys matriculated in 2007 and 2010, said some of the pupils were no "angels".

"When we were at Bishops [some] boys took a picture up the skirt of a Maths teacher and circulated it. There were severe consequences, as I recall," she said.

"However, no person in a position of trust or authority should abuse that, be they male or female. #MeToo cuts both ways."

A fourth parent said that, while she did not know whether Viotti had been teaching those who were making the allegations, no one should get involved with someone over whom they had an influence.

"If she had no dealings with him in any way, through sport or academics, in a way... it's a very grey area."

She made reference to French President Emmanuel Macron, whose wife Brigitte was his drama teacher in high school.

'We expect the school to do all that is necessary'

Bishops has a long history of excellent academics in Cape Town, having been established in 1849 by Bishop Robert Gray, with many famous old boys coming from its ranks.

They include Democratic Alliance (DA) MP James Selfe, entrepreneur and former astronaut Mark Shuttleworth, former Proteas cricket star Herschelle Gibbs and businessman and founder of Pick 'n Pay Raymond Ackerman – patron of the Old Diocesan Union (ODU or Bishops Old Boys).

When considering applications, the school favours boys with all-round talents in academics, leadership, sport and culture.

Sons of old boys and siblings of current pupils are given priority, although admission is not guaranteed, according to Parent24.

Transformation and diversity are also determining factors for admission.

ODU chair Adam Pike said on Thursday that they were passionate alumni and cared for the well-being and reputation of the school.

"Accordingly, we expect the school to do all that is necessary to fulfil our expectations. To date, the union is satisfied that the school is pursuing its processes with sufficient vigour," he said.

News24 asked Pike whether old boys had raised any concerns, queries or suggestions in relation to the allegations.

He was also asked whether any old boys had shared similar experiences with the same teacher or another teacher, and if this had been forwarded to the person heading the school's inquiry.

'She's under a lot of stress'

Pike said the ODU was institutionally and legally separate from the school.

"I am certain that once the inquiry has run its course, the findings will be studied and treated in the most fitting and appropriate manner. As for the rest, the matters that you are enquiring about are school-related issues," Pike said.

Pearson said the school was doing everything it could to ensure the mental well-being of pupils, staff, and others affected by the "very sad events".

He appealed for respect of the dignity and privacy of the people affected while the investigation continued.

The school has also made psychologists, employed by the Bishops Support Unit, as well as external clinical psychologists and psychiatrists available to any boy or family member that may have been affected by the events.

Viotti's lawyer William Booth said earlier this week that his client was very stressed over the situation.

"She's under a lot of stress," Booth said on Monday. "The family are helping her. They are making sure she can manage all of this that is going on at the moment."

He denied claims that she had left the country.

Viotti's father, Dave, sent an email to parents earlier this week saying they were "devastated", but would be "soldiering on", TimesLive reported. He thanked the community for their support.

No police case has been laid, Western Cape police confirmed on Thursday.

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