The principal of a Melbourne school has been found to have failed Jewish students facing anti-Semitic discrimination and bullying, with the education department ordered to pay the group hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Federal Court Justice Debra Mortimer handed down her judgment on Thursday in a case brought forward by five former students of Melbourne’s Brighton Secondary College against the state of Victoria and the government-funded high school for negligence and failing to protect the students from discrimination.

Five former students, Liam Arnold-Levy, Guy Cohen, Zack Snelling and brothers Matt and Joel Kaplan, alleged they experienced anti-Semitic bullying, discrimination and negligence at the school between 2013 and 2020, including being subject to high levels of anti-Semitic graffiti and harassment from other students.

Justice Mortimer “generally accepted” the applicants’ narrative and found that principal Richard Minack had failed to address anti-Semitism at the school, including failing to uphold the Racial Discrimination Act “by failing to take appropriate and reasonable steps to discourage and modify the anti Semitic student bullying and harassment behaviour and to discourage swastika graffiti”.

The court found that Mr Minack “took a different and less favourable approach” to the bullying and harassment of Jewish students than he would have taken to other vulnerable minority groups.

“There was an inexplicable and unusual tolerance for anti Semitic graffiti and a preparedness to ignore, downplay and take less seriously the complaints made by Jewish students and their families,” Justice Mortimer ruled.

“There was also a disinclination to adopt any systemic school wide steps to address anti-Semitic student behaviour.”

The court ordered the state of Victoria must pay damages and compensation to each of the former students.

Mr Snelling was awarded $244,968.31, Mr Cohen was awarded $55,000, and Mr Arnold-Levy was awarded $11,532.43. Brothers Matt and Joel Kaplan were awarded $60,000 and $63,780 respectively.

The court also ruled that an apology should be given to the applicants.

The ruling was met with praise by the Jewish community, with Executive Council of Australian Jewry President Jillian Segal welcoming the decision.

“This decision will stand as a warning to any students who engage in anti-Semitic bullying, and to parents, teachers and Education Departments across Australia who fail to act responsibly to curb and prevent such behaviour. They will be held to account for their actions,” Ms Segal said.

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