Kehoe was convicted in April 2015 of sexually grooming a child under the age of 16, given a community corrections order and placed on the sex offenders register for eight years.
“As we shared in writing in May 2015 when Mr Kehoe was convicted, he was never a member of the teaching or general staff at St Kevin’s College,” Mr Russell wrote.
“He was a volunteer athletics coach.”
Mr Russell told parents that Kehoe’s offending occurred online and “in a private coaching setting away from the college and of which the college was neither aware nor involved”.
But he reiterated his regret at providing Kehoe with a reference at the conclusion of his trial.
“With the experience and learnings of the last six years, we are doing a far better job now at finding the right way to deal with these difficult issues,” he wrote.
“In the same circumstances today, I would not provide a reference.”
St Kevin’s College staff have been rostered on to chaperone students as they ride to and from school by public transport this week.
Mr Russell told parents this was for the students’ safety and wellbeing.
The school’s dean of sport, Luke Travers, also issued a character reference for Kehoe in 2015.
The reference detailed Kehoe’s “commitment, enthusiasm, reliability” and his life membership of St Kevin’s Amateur Athletics Club, but was silent about the fact he had been accused of child grooming.
When Kehoe’s victim, year 9 student Paris Street, returned to St Kevin’s after a brief spell at another school, he was made to meet with Mr Travers, Four Corners reported. During that meeting, which was documented by a school psychologist, Mr Travers said he “felt obliged” to support Kehoe.
“As a friend, I did not want him to be convicted,” Mr Travers said, according to the ABC.
Mr Russell condemned the behaviour of Mr Travers in his letter to parents.
“The conduct of Mr Travers in 2015 was absolutely unacceptable,” Mr Russell told parents.
“Mr Travers acted in an individual capacity when he attended Mr Kehoe’s trial. He did so without the college’s knowledge or consent.”
The college “took formal steps in regard to Mr Travers’ conduct”, he said.
The Age has put questions to the school about what formal steps were taken.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the school’s response was “just not on” and suggested the headmaster would have lost his job if he worked in the state system.
“It’s one thing to say that you’ve got a zero tolerance to child sexual abuse, to grooming, to any of this completely inappropriate behaviour,” he reporters on Tuesday.
“It’s another thing to actually demonstrate that. And I think St Kevin’s and their leadership have got some very real questions to answer.”
Mr Andrews said: “I don’t think anyone would want any child, let alone their own child, to be treated that way: to have serious allegations made, to have then a court process, and then to have this sense that there’s no urgency, there’s no consequences, that people can behave such an inappropriate way.”
When asked whether Mr Russell should lose his job, Mr Andrews replied: “That’s entirely a matter for the board and the people that employ him. I don’t employ him – it might be a bit different if I did.”
But he suggested Mr Russell would no longer be employed as a principal in the state system: “I think I’d be answering you in very different terms. I think it’d be hard to have confidence in him.
“But they’re not at a government school, they’re at a Catholic school. And the board and Catholic Education can make their own judgements, and indeed parents can make their own judgements. And I think parents have every right at that school to be very, very angry.”
Mr Andrews said the Four Corners report reinforced the importance of laws that came into effect this week that require clergy to report child abuse to authorities, even if heard in confession.
Kehoe’s grooming included taking the year 9 student into his bedroom and inviting the boy to engage in a sex act, something the victim told Four Corners was “one of the most scary times in my life”.
Mr Russell provided a magistrate with a post-conviction reference noting Kehoe had served the school for 35 years. He said he did so at the request of Kehoe’s lawyers.
Paris told the ABC that “it makes you feel betrayed” to learn that the man who hounded him with explicit messages and crude innuendo had been personally and professionally endorsed by the school’s principal and its dean of sports.
Paris and his friend Ned O’Brien, who became a witness at the trial, told Four Corners they received no support from the school before the trial.
During the trial, Paris was cross-examined for two days by Kehoe’s defence barrister, top QC, Robert Richter.
According to Ned’s mother, Mr Russell also phoned her on the morning of the trial and asked if the boys were going to wear their St Kevin’s distinctive navy, yellow and green blazers.
“I thought, ‘Wow, you really do want to cover this up’,” Ms O’Brien told Four Corners.
In the wake of the abuse and the trial, Paris struggled through his last years of school and suffered anxiety and panic attacks, eventually needing psychiatric treatment in hospital.
“I wouldn’t want to go to sleep at night because I wouldn’t want to get up in the morning to go to school,” Paris said.
Adam Carey is Education Editor. He joined The Age in 2007 and has previously covered state politics, transport, general news, the arts and food.
Madeleine Heffernan edits The Age’s Monday education page