The headmaster of St Kevin’s College in Melbourne has resigned and the school’s dean of sport has been stood down following a Four Corners story about the college’s response to the grooming of a student by a former athletics coach.
The Toorak school has been in damage control since a Four Corners investigation revealed the headmaster and the sport head provided references for convicted child sex offender Peter Kehoe, but did not support the victim during the court process.
Numerous current and former staff, students and parents from St Kevin’s College told Four Corners the school had a history of failing to adequately deal with complaints of inappropriate behaviour.
Those complaints involved an allegation of sexual harassment and concerns raised by staff members about potential grooming and inappropriate behaviour towards boys by two male teachers.
Following the investigation, the state government announced the education regulator would investigate whether St Kevin’s College is compliant with child safety standards.
In a letter to parents on Wednesday, former headmaster Stephen Russell said that to prioritise the wellbeing of the school and students in the current situation, his best option was to resign.
“In my time at St Kevin’s I have always tried to put the school before self and the students’ wellbeing at the very top of my list of priorities. I believe the current situation means that the best way to achieve this is to resign,” Mr Russell’s letter said.
Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA), which oversees the school, announced the school’s dean of sport, Luke Travers – who had also issued a employment reference and character evidence for Kehoe – had been stood down pending further investigations of issues raised during the Four Corners program.
“Two teachers who are currently under EREA investigation, are also not presently at the school until further notice, until those investigations are complete,” said EREA executive director Wayne Tinsey.
“EREA accepts the gravity of the matters raised in recent days. Business as usual is not an option for St Kevin’s in response to these issues, which need to be addressed as a matter of priority.
“It is clear that what has occurred has fallen short of what the community expects, and what we expect of ourselves.”
Mr Tinsey also announced the immediate appointment John Crowley, currently Principal of St Patrick’s College Ballarat, as the acting headmaster of St Kevin’s.
Kehoe was a St Kevin’s Old Boy who had trained students at the school for 40 years.
In 2013, Kehoe left the school, but remained with the St Kevin’s Amateur Athletics Club as a volunteer, which trained on school grounds.
He was Paris Street’s running coach when he groomed the then-Year 9 student.
Mr Street was called earlier on Wednesday by Mr Tinsey to inform him he had just accepted Mr Russell’s resignation.
He also told Mr Street he has the full support from the Edmund Rice community.
An emotional Mr Street told Four Corners the ordeal had been “exhausting and debilitating” and that the resignation was the right decision.
“I hope it represents a shift in attitudes, valuing child safety as its No.1 priority,” he said.
“I am relieved to hear that Stephen Russell has resigned. I hope to now be able to begin to close this chapter of my life so that I can move forward. I am so grateful for the support I have received from across the country.”
EREA’s Mr Tinsey on Tuesday gave Mr Russell his full support in a speech to an assembly at the college.
“On behalf of EREA I express my absolute admiration for Stephen Russell and your staff,” he told the school.
“Stephen Russell, his family who have suffered and continue to suffer very unfair criticism. Stephen, know that you have the absolute faith and confidence of EREA as you do your best in a self-effacing way at many of the areas that need to be changed.
“EREA will work with you and we will bring about the change that is needed. But know that you have our absolute confidence as you lead this community of wonderful people through this very difficult phase.”
Mr Tinsey also told students the school had been “dragged through the mud” by the Four Corners investigation.
“We can only begin to imagine the devastation that many of you are feeling to have the culture of your school, a school that is a good and noble school, so publicly dragged through the mud in a national program,” Mr Tinsey said.
“It is hurtful and I know that it will take a long time to recover from it.”