Bishops probe into teacher sex claims begins as more details emerge

CAPE TOWN, South Africa – A Bishops probe into serious misconduct allegations against a female teacher got under way on Friday, with the principal having been interviewed by the appointed attorney and senior advocate.

The boys’ school in the well-off suburb of Rondebosch is investigating allegations against history teacher and water polo coach Fiona Viotti regarding a reported sexual relationship with an 18-year-old matric pupil.

The pupil had reportedly tried to break off the relationship, but Viotti reportedly refused to agree to terminate it.

The school’s investigation will be led by attorney Graeme Dorrington and senior advocate Francois van Zyl, according to the Weekend Argus on Saturday.

An interview with school principal Guy Pearson had already taken place, and alleged victims and staff are still expected to be interviewed.

Three more pupils ‘may have been affected’

The report, citing a source close to the inquiry who did not want to be named, said the school has also established so far that three more pupils may have been affected, with the earliest alleged incident dating back to 2015.

The source described social media gossip that up to 40 boys were affected as “absolute rubbish”.

Pearson did not want to comment on any new information, pending the ongoing investigation, saying the school wanted to be fair to all parties.

Currently, no crime is under investigation.

Viotti has resigned, but Pearson said earlier this week that several boys “have been affected over a number of years”.

“There has been an appeal to boys and parents for any information which would add to our understanding,” Pearson previously said. 

Pearson said the school was doing everything it could to ensure the mental well-being of pupils, staff, and others affected by the “very sad events”. 

Viotti has hired top Cape Town lawyer William Booth, who previously said she had not been through a disciplinary procedure before she resigned.

Booth said his client was “stressed” about the situation, and was receiving support from her family.

Power dynamics

Also on Friday, a meeting of Founders House was called by Viotti’s father, teacher and coach, Dave Mallet, and Pearson to clarify a letter sent to parents by Mallet earlier in the week. 

In the letter, Mallett thanked people for the messages of support received in the wake of the “devastating events” and said he had spoken to the boys at Founders House, the boarding school section he heads, and asked them to adopt a “business as usual” approach around him.

During the meeting, Mallet stated that he did not condone his daughter’s actions.

Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Basic Education has also spoken out on the incident, saying that while the pupil may have been the legal age of consent, he is also still a school pupil and there are power dynamics at play

The committee said on Friday that there had been an increase in the number of reported complaints regarding relationships between female teachers and school pupils.

Parents of former pupils also expressed their shock this week, with one telling that Viotti had taught one of their sons history, and came across as “a sweet girl”.

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