The St John’s College teacher who was forced to resign this week after he was found guilty of three serious charges, including racism, reportedly thought he was just being funny.
Keith Arlow was originally given only a final written warning by the school’s independent senior counsel. Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, however, demanded his dismissal.
The school eventually apologised to the students affected, their parents, the student body, all parents, staff, alumni and everyone else for the hurt caused.
City Press reports that Arlow, in his disciplinary hearing, originally seemed to be dismissive and defensive, and said his “inappropriate comments” had been intended as jokes.
He, among other things, reportedly wrote in his 30-page affidavit that: “Sometimes what they [pupils] say to each other appears funny and without thought I participated therein.” He said that one could get caught up in conversation and then “cross the teacher-student line”.
Arlow was a geography teacher.
He was accused of calling one black pupil an underachiever; said that black boys “look the same from some angles”; told a black pupil that it was good he was “thinking like a white boy”; complained that there were too many foreigners in Sixth Form; said “all you black boys know Zulu; referred to one pupil as “too Indian”; and called another boy a “dirty Greek”.
Arlow claimed not to remember these comments, but said that if he had participated in such “good-natured jokes” he was “genuinely shocked” that anyone had been offended.
He said the allegations had apparently gained momentum unchecked until the point that he was “guilty in everyone’s eyes”.
The school said on Friday: “The wellbeing and security of our students are our primary concern and we deeply regret the hurt this has caused all our communities. But perceptions that St John’s College condones racism and that racism is widespread are absolutely untrue.”
In the joint statement, the school said that at a meeting between the school’s leadership and the teacher, it was made clear that the situation was “untenable and that the relationship had broken down irretrievably”.
It was mutually agreed that the school and teacher would part ways, and the teacher handed in his resignation.
Lesufi said: “All schools, whether they are public or private, cannot have codes of conduct that contravene the constitution of South Africa. We will deal with racism decisively and not give racists space to breath because nonracialism is non-negotiable,” the MEC said.
The education department said a summit would be facilitated in September to deal in detail with all issues affecting private and independent schools in particular. The date for the summit would be announced in due course.