Senior staffer to apologise in person over Brighton Secondary antisemitism

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The Caulfield Hebrew Congregation will hear an in-person apology from a senior Department of Education staff member after a court found the state failed to protect five Jewish students from racial discrimination at school.

The state will also pay $200,000 in costs and interest on top of about $435,000 in compensation it was ordered to pay over the case in September.

Matt Kaplan (left) and Liam Arnold-Levy outside court in September.Credit: Justin McManus

The Federal Court order, made by Chief Justice Debra Mortimer on Monday, follows the ruling in favour of five former students of Brighton Secondary College – Matt and Joel Kaplan, Liam Arnold-Levy, Guy Cohen and Zack Snelling – who sued three staff from the government-run school and the state of Victoria for negligence and contraventions of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Mortimer upheld the students’ allegations in part, finding the college’s principal, Richard Minack, failed to systemically address antisemitic bullying and harassment with established practices used for other vulnerable minorities.

She said the principal also failed to take appropriate steps to discourage swastika graffiti.

The group claimed Jewish students were treated differently to other vulnerable minority groups and had to endure “unreasonably and extraordinarily high levels” of swastika graffiti around the school grounds, which “made them fearful for their safety at school”.

Former Brighton Secondary College principal Richard Minack.Credit: Justin McManus

They said there were no systemic measures taken to discourage antisemitic behaviour or educate students, as was done when other minority groups faced discrimination.

Minack, who stepped down from his role last week, apologised to one of the students in court and said school administrators had dealt with bullying linked to discrimination. But he admitted that for much of the period in which the Jewish students were harassed, the school did not have policies to specifically identify or prevent antisemitic behaviour.

In front of a packed courtroom, Mortimer awarded compensation of almost $245,000 to Snelling, while Joel Kaplan was awarded $63,780, Matt Kaplan $60,780, Cohen $55,000 and Arnold-Levy just over $11,500.

Monday’s order directed the state to pay the applicants’ costs of $130,000, and almost $74,000 worth of interest on their compensation. Mortimer also ordered the state to pay almost $4200 for experts who appeared in the trial.

A written apology has been drafted to Joel Kaplan, Snelling and Cohen. In it, Education Department secretary Jenny Atta apologises for the antisemitic bullying the students experienced at the school, and the failures of staff to adequately act and protect them.

In the letters, Atta acknowledges the state’s failure impaired the students’ right to education and their Jewish identities, “for which I and the state of Victoria are deeply sorry”.

Mortimer said letters were drafted to only three of the applicants because Matt Kaplan and Arnold-Levy no longer wanted a written apology from the state.

A further apology will be delivered by Education Department deputy secretary David Howes at the Caulfield Hebrew Congregation.

The wording has been left at the state’s discretion, but Mortimer said it must include the words “apologise” and “sorry” and must to delivered by November 28.

Former education minister Natalie Hutchins apologised on the day of the ruling, while Premier Jacinta Allan and Deputy Premier and Education Minister Ben Carroll sent a separate letter of apology to the students on October 17.

Richard Hutchings, partner at Cornwalls, which represented the students, said apologies of such content and scope were unprecedented. “It’s a big milestone and a significant moment,” he said.

The Education Department has been contacted for comment.

More to come

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