Principals shed light on teacher’s arrest

VICTORIA Police is working with Bialik College to identify students who may have been photographed by a former teacher who has been charged with making child pornography.

The media studies teacher, a 52-year-old man from Noble Park, worked at Bialik until 2015. He then moved to Mount Scopus, where he worked until he was suspended last week.

In an exclusive interview with The AJN this week, Bialik principal Jeremy Stowe-Lindner and Mount Scopus principal Rabbi James Kennard explained what happened and how they dealt with the issue.

Stowe-Lindner said that the teacher left a hard drive at Bialik when he left the school.

It was only during an audit two weeks ago that the offending material was discovered.

“My immediate reaction was to tell the police, the Victorian Institute of Teaching and Rabbi Kennard,” Stowe-Lindner said.

Rabbi Kennard wanted to immediately suspend the teacher, but was asked to wait by Victoria Police to make sure the investigation would not be compromised.

On Monday Rabbi Kennard was given the green light to suspend the teacher and then on Thursday, following an investigation into child pornography and upskirting, police charged the man with “make/produce child porn and possess child pornography” in relation to incidents that took place between 2014 and 2017.

Stowe-Lindner, who noted that there were no contact offences, briefed all staff on Thursday and then spoke to students while a letter was being sent to parents.

“As the letter went out we activated a series of smaller group assemblies for two to three year levels at a time,” Stowe-Lindner said.

“They were briefed and I didn’t end those meetings until every question was answered. It was important to reassure students that all questions are good questions. We gave them a chance to start the conversation.”

Stowe-Lindner said the focus has always been on the wellbeing of students, and that now shifts to the children who may be identified in the photos.

“I am in communication with the police and they are still in the process of trying to identify students.

“We will be supporting them with that. The school is working on a strategy to support students if they are identified.

“In terms of timing, this is under the control of the police. They were only able to start scanning devices recently and that’s a lengthy process.”

Reflecting on the incident, Stowe-Lindner said that the photos, which were processed off-site, were only discovered because the school has stringent child safety policies.

“Any institution’s policies and procedures would be challenged by such alleged covert and calculated actions, so we are grateful that we picked it up,” he said.

“I would like to credit Manny Waks with a culture change within and beyond our community.

“I would hope that 10 years ago there would also have been instant police liaison and intervention without hesitation, but I think that is now a reality everywhere.”

Rabbi Kennard concurred with that assessment, noting that in this post-Royal Commission era the culture has changed.

He said that the schools had no concern about their image and reputation of their institutions, and focused only on the welfare of students.

“Our objectives were to remove immediately the danger presented by the staff member, to communicate and cooperate fully with police and to inform our parents as fully and as early as possible,” Rabbi Kennard said.

Rabbi Kennard told The AJN that he briefed secondary school teachers on Thursday and then spoke to students on Friday.

“We decided not to speak to students on the day and let them discuss it with their parents.

“As soon as the news broke a number of students came to see me to talk about the issue and their possible concerns.

“On Friday, I spoke to the secondary school students, aiming to reinforce the message that the students’ safety is our first priority, and to create a culture in the school where students feel comfortable to inform senior staff of anything that makes them uncomfortable, as well as reporting any abuse to the police, and on Monday I gave a similar, age- appropriate message to the upper primary students.”

Rabbi Kennard said that at this stage the police have not started to go through the school’s computers to look for any relevant files.

“When they do, and if there is material relating to Scopus students,  of course we will fully assist in all areas including possible identification,” Rabbi Kennard said.

“We will inform students and parents if there are any identified as soon as we can.”

JOSHUA LEVI