St Kevin's principal resigns, dean of sport stood down amid grooming scandal

Outgoing principal Stephen Russell. Source: St Kevin's College

The announcement follows a series of damning reports about the culture at the $20,000-a-year boys school in Melbourne.

The principal of a prestigious Melbourne private school has announced his immediate resignation and the dean of sport has been stood down, a day after the Victorian education regulator said they would investigate whether the school mishandled allegations of grooming.

The investigation followed a damning report into the culture at St Kevin's College in Toorak broadcast by ABC's Four Corners on Monday.

It revealed the outgoing principal, Stephen Russell, provided a character reference for the school's long-time volunteer athletics coach Peter Kehoe, after he was convicted of grooming a then 15-year-old student at the elite all-boys school in 2015.

The school's dean of sport Luke Travers also issued an employment and character reference for Kehoe, Four Corners reported, leading the college's governing body, Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA), to suspend him pending further investigation of the issues raised in the program.

In a statement, EREA said they would also be conducting an independent cultural review of the school, stating "business as usual is not an option". 

In a letter to parents and guardians on Wednesday, Mr Russell said he decided to "put the school before self" and had, therefore, tendered his resignation.

"I have always tried to put ... the students' wellbeing at the very top of my list of priorities. I believe the current situation means that the best way to achieve this is to resign," he said.

"I extend my best wishes and encouragement to the current student body to be 'good people', the way so many who went before them have been across the decades."

The college, which costs just over $20,000 a year for pupils in Year 5 to Year 12, first hit headlines in October after a group of uniformed students were filmed singing an offensive chant about women on a Melbourne tram.

Following the publication of the video by ABC News, Mr Russell apologised for the year 10 and 11 students' "poor behaviour and misogynistic attitudes".

"As a husband, a father of a daughter, a brother of four sisters, a son and, I hope, a good friend and decent colleague to many women, I know this behaviour cannot go unchallenged," he said in a letter to parents and guardians following the incident.

President of the Blue Knot Foundation, which advocates on behalf of people who have experienced childhood trauma and abuse, Cathy Kezelman said she hopes the resignation represents "the beginning of a critical change in child safety and accountability" at the college.

She also praised the bravery of former student and victim of Kehoe, 20-year-old Paris Street, who spoke out in the Four Corners investigation.

"It is not acceptable to ever ignore the suffering of victims and the impact of the crime of child sexual abuse in favour of institutions and their hierarchy," she said.

Announcing the Victorian Registration & Qualifications Authority investigation into the school's child safety compliance on Tuesday, Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said it was an "entirely appropriate" step.

"Nothing is more important than the safety of children. That’s why we have introduced Child Safe Standards and mandatory reporting," he said.

"These reports are very concerning and if I was a parent of a student at the school, I would be demanding answers."

A school spokesperson told SBS News on Tuesday that they would cooperate with the review.

The governing body of St Kevin's, Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA), announced that Mr Russell would be replaced by the current principal of St Patrick's College Ballarat, John Crowley. 

Mr Crowley was a significant contributor to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

"He is very highly regarded in the educational and broader community for his leadership," EREA said in a statement on Wednesday. "John is also well known as a trusted advocate for victims and survivors of abuse."

Following Kehoe's conviction on one count of grooming a child under the age of 16 in 2015, St Kevin's said that two additional teachers are being investigated over abuse allegations.

EREA confirmed that the two teachers under investigation would not be at the school until further notice. 

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

Anyone seeking information or support relating to sexual abuse can also contact Bravehearts on 1800 272 831 or Blue Knot on 1300 657 380.

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