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St John's Alumni: Headteacher Paul Edey Must Be Willing To 'Fall On His Sword' And Resign

An alumni pressure group believes the school is closing ranks, however the school council has apologised for racism at the college.

04/08/2017 06:08 SAST | Updated 04/08/2017 07:18 SAST
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An alumni group of St John's College has accused the school of closing ranks and is calling for headmaster Paul Edey to resign amid a racism row that has engulfed the school.

According to #OpenStJohns movement organiser Omphile Ramela a crisis meeting at the school, where pupils and parents were invited to attend, "turned out into a session where white people became gatekeepers for [council chair] John Patricios and Paul Edey".

The movement demanded that Edey and Patricios resign from their respective positions. It believes the pair did not do enough to protect students against geography teacher Keith Arlow, who was found in a disciplinary hearing to have made discriminatory remarks towards black South African, Greek, foreign and Indian pupils. Despite this he was retained by the school.

He resigned on Friday following an ultimatum by Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi.

Concerned parents, teachers and pupils were invited to a town hall meeting this week to discuss measures that should be taken to avoid racist incidents in the future.

Closing ranks
"In as much as black people spoke, white people wanted us to feel sorry for them. The fact is that black people are the ones affected by racism," said Ramela.

Ramela spoke about how some teachers seemed uncomfortable with the idea of a change in leadership at the school. "There is a cabal of staff members that are threatening to resign if the leadership of the school changes. It's those types of teachers that St John's doesn't actually need," Ramela said.

The movement said parents could not trust that the council would take actual steps in addressing racism problems at the school until there was a written agreement.

"The parents are acting in good faith but until council is dissolved and a new structure is put forward we can't trust anything", he said.

He warned parents to prepare themselves for further disappointment if pledges by the school did not materialise.

"The headmaster came out and said they apologised to all the black boys that were affected in this entire thing. Then the one black boy who was actually involved said it was a lie, there was never an apology forthcoming, in front of the entire community."

'Lack of remorse'
The group also expressed anger over what it believes is the school's lack of true remorse about the issue.

"In all communication that was sent out to the St John's community they have not once apologised to any black people," said Ramela.

#Open St Johns said it was considering escalating the matter to government.

"St John's needs to know that it is operates in a South African context, it is not an island that is reserved for white people. It is a South African school and it needs to start representing South Africa," said Ramela.

"Real transformation is about black people, moulding their own experiences without fear or favour."

Some positive steps
Parents have nevertheless told HuffPost SA they believe the meeting was a step in the right direction.

Parent Lerato Akeyo said: "The main achievement of the meeting is that we agreed on a proposal for us to move forward as a collective. That proposal is through an interim structure which will reflect the views of concerned parents and other stakeholders, together with some of the council members, and that will be the entity that charges the way forward for the school."

Meanwhile, St John's College said it was happy with the turnout at the meeting. "This a true reflection of the concern and love for St John's College. We appreciate and acknowledge the views of all who spoke as well as those who have submitted queries and opinions since last night's [Wednesday night] meeting," it said in a statement.

The school said it was carefully considering themes of concern for all pupils, as well as implementation of their proposed inclusive processes and ongoing communication.

The next step for the council was to hold a special meeting before school reconvenes in September to formalise an interim committee to deal with a number of key issues.

In a letter addressed to members of the St John's community on behalf of the school's council, Johannesburg Bishop Dr Steve Moreo said: "We recognise that the process of handling this matter was flawed.

"We unreservedly apologise and deeply regret the racially derogatory and inappropriate remarks, the way in which we handled the process and especially the hurt of the boys and parents."

He said transformation was a priority.

"We do not believe that the utterances of one teacher define or reflect the culture and ethos of St John's, but we acknowledge that there are some stakeholders within our community who now have their doubts about this."

"The priority now was transformation processes and critical analysis of governance processes."