A faculty member at Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School (BCGS) has been stood down after making inappropriate comments and using a racial slur in front of students during school hours.
It’s understood that on June 23, students were walking into a Year 10 manual arts class at the regional WA school when a support staff member began talking about the Black Lives Matter movement and his experience growing up in South Africa.
Co-Chair of Reconciliation WA Carol Innes’ 15-year-old grandson was one of the students present. NIT has not identified the boy at the request of the family.
“[The staff member] went on about the Black Lives Matter movement … and was talking about his experience in South Africa and calling … [South African Black people] ‘kaffirs’,” Innes said.
A derogatory term for Black African people, ‘kaffir’ is a racial slur most commonly used under apartheid in South Africa. It is still viewed as a racist remark today.
Innes said her grandson was extremely upset and messaged her later about the incident.
In text messages seen by NIT, Innes’ grandson said the faculty member “showed his hate towards black (coloured) people and call [sic] them all lazy and showed quite a lot of hate”.
It’s understood the faculty member then said people “should just forget about slavery” as it’s “in the past” and that the Black Lives Matter movement was “just sucking money out of the economy”.
“This type of conversation shouldn’t even be happening between a student and staff.
“He was also using derogatory terms towards black people.
“Saying kaffirs … And kept on saying that,” the texts said.
The 15-year-old then stood up and voiced his disagreement, then left the class with other students. He later reported the incident to a staff member.
“I really felt [my grandson’s] pain … of him having to stand alone in that and stand up,” Innes said.
“But I’m so proud he found his voice to say … it’s not appropriate and it’s not correct and it’s a skewed view of your experience.”
Bunbury Cathedral Grammar responds
Upon hearing about the incident, Innes travelled to Bunbury to see her grandson, who is boarding at BCGS.
The Co-Chair of Reconciliation WA said she was invited to stay at the parents’ accommodation unit, attended the boarders’ dinner with school department heads and received a tour of the school grounds.
“The funny thing for me was the question they asked me when I first sat down at the dinner table: ‘What committee are you on again?’,” Innes said.
Innes said the faculty member in question was not immediately suspended and instead the students involved were told they no longer had to attend the class.
“It made it seem like the boys were at fault, and the [staff member] was still in the class,” she said.
BCGS Head of School, Michael Giles, told NIT the school opened an investigation into the incident and “as part of this process, the support staff member was stood down”.
“In a conversation with the student, a support staff member relayed his personal experiences and perspective of living in Africa. He has subsequently acknowledged that this was a mistake,” Giles said.
Giles said he met with the Year 10 student before the next lesson and “advised the staff member would not be present”.
“The student was offered an alternate arrangement should they not feel comfortable returning to this class,” the Head of School said.
“We are committed to providing a child safe environment that safeguards all students and is committed to promoting practices that provide for the wellbeing, safety, and welfare of our students,” Giles said.
“The staff member involved is undertaking further training and has agreed to a response to this situation in line with the School’s values and expectations.”
The Head of School confirmed with NIT the faculty member will return to his role next term once he is “assured the staff member appreciates that the conduct was unacceptable”.
Educating the educators
Innes said the Black Lives Matter movement has brought out some ugly opinions.
“It’s brought people’s own prejudices to the front,” she said.
“Some people … are using it as their own platform, trying to bring their own opinions into something that they haven’t really understood the impact of.
“It’s making kids feel so unsafe and … whilst they may not be a part of the movement they are being targeted by the movement.
“It’s not just about … the pain and suffering [of First Nations Peoples]. It’s every single day things we do, we are targeted by it.”
The Reconciliation WA Co-Chair said she is angry this happened at a supposedly reputable independent school.
“How can we keep doing all of these scholarships and education things [for Indigenous children] … when the educators of these children need to be further educated around what’s happening in the world?” Innes questioned.
“The place that we’re supposed to say education is free and open to all young people, and then we get incidents like that.
“It was too comfortable for him to say [that slur].”
Innes said her grandson has been struggling since the incident.
“It’s been really hard trying to take away the pain and angst with this.”
She said her grandson has been removed from the school and will attend a different school next term.
By Hannah Cross