‘But I was just jok­ing!’

CityPress - - News - MSINDISI FENGU msindisi.fengu@city­press.co.za

Keith Ar­low, the for­mer St John’s Col­lege teacher, pleaded to keep his job dur­ing his dis­ci­plinary pro­ceed­ings, which found him guilty of mak­ing racist com­ments. His wish was granted when an independent se­nior coun­sel made a find­ing that re­sulted in a fi­nal warn­ing.

In his 30-page af­fi­davit be­fore his dis­ci­plinary hear­ing, Ar­low ap­peared dis­mis­sive and de­fen­sive about the al­le­ga­tions lev­elled against him, say­ing the charges were vague, un­sub­stan­ti­ated and framed as a con­clu­sion. He also said he could not re­mem­ber some of the in­ci­dents dur­ing which he made racist com­ments. How­ever, he did ad­mit to mak­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ments, but said he was just jok­ing.

“I ad­mit that cer­tain of the stereo­type (sic) com­ments made by my­self to stu­dents in good hu­mour were not ap­pro­pri­ate or were ill ad­vised. I see this now ... Some­times what they say to each other ap­pears funny and with­out thought I par­tic­i­pated therein,” he said.

“As a teacher, you some­times get caught up in a con­ver­sa­tion with stu­dents and the teacher/stu­dent line gets crossed.”

Ar­low quit the school on Fri­day, af­ter Gaut­eng Ed­u­ca­tion MEC Panyaza Le­sufi de­manded that he be fired by 1pm.

“All schools, whether they are pub­lic or pri­vate, can­not have codes of con­duct that con­tra­vene the Con­sti­tu­tion of South Africa,” he said. Le­sufi said the school acted be­fore the 1pm dead­line.

The for­mer ge­og­ra­phy teacher, em­ployed at St John’s since 2006, was pro­moted to house­mas­ter in 2012 and se­nior house­mas­ter in 2015. In his sub­mis­sion, he ob­jected to a string of charges he faced in a dis­ci­plinary hear­ing on Fe­bru­ary 10 and pleaded not guilty.

Among the al­le­ga­tions made against him with which he dealt in his re­sponse, were that he:

. Told a black pupil he was an “un­der­achiever”;

. Stated black boys “look the same from some an­gles”;

. Told a black learner: “Good, now you are think­ing like a white boy”;

. Did not like “Six Form­ers be­cause there are too many for­eign­ers”;

. Once said: “All you black boys know Zulu”;

. Re­ferred to an In­dian pupil as “too In­dian”; and

. Re­ferred to a Greek boy as a “dirty Greek” or a “Turk”. He claimed not to re­mem­ber any of th­ese, but did re­call an in­ci­dent last year dur­ing which In­dian pupils were “jok­ing with each other” and oth­ers that young In­dian men like Golf GTIs.

“I see now in ret­ro­spect that al­though I did not start the con­ver­sa­tion or the stereo­typ­i­cal com­ments, it may have been in­ap­pro­pri­ate for me as teacher to en­gage herein,” Ar­low sub­mit­ted.

“When the good-na­tured jokes were over, no one seemed of­fended thereby and I am gen­uinely shocked by the fact that one (or more) of the stu­dents was, in fact, of­fended ... I be­lieved that th­ese ma­tric stu­dents were ma­ture enough to un­der­stand the con­text that my com­ments were made [sic] and it is now ap­par­ent to me that I was mis­taken.”

In his sub­mis­sion, Ar­low also de­tailed how the school did not of­fi­cially dis­close the al­le­ga­tions against him and in­stead sent him to a work­shop at the Ahmed Kathrada Foun­da­tion in De­cem­ber.

“I was not told that the work­shop was in­tended to be part of an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion or dis­ci­plinary process by the school against me or that a re­port on me would be gen­er­ated there­from ... I cer­tainly was not ad­vised of my rights,” he said.

“I seemed to be guilty in ev­ery­one’s eyes. The al­le­ga­tions had been al­lowed to gain mo­men­tum unchecked and I felt that I was no longer in a po­si­tion to clear my name.”

On Fri­day, the school said it and Ar­low de­cided to part ways be­cause the sit­u­a­tion was un­ten­able and their relationship had bro­ken down ir­re­triev­ably.

Keith Ar­low

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