A New Zealand school is considering its options after a High Court judge ruled its suspension of a student for having his hair too long just didn’t cut it legally.
Justice David Collins ruled that the Hastings school was wrong to suspend St John’s College student Lucan Battison, saying his disobedience wasn’t serious enough to warrant a suspension and that the school’s hair rule was unclear anyway.
St John’s College principal Paul Melloy says the school and its board would review the ruling, and consider its impact on it and other schools.
“Naturally we are disappointed of the decision,” he said in a statement on Friday.
“It is not about the individual student but being able to manage our school in a positive equitable environment. This includes compliance with our rules.”
Lucan, a Year 12 student, said he kept his hair at a similar length in previous years and was never questioned about it until this year, the year in which Mr Melloy became the principal.
Lucan was suspended after refusing to cut his hair and the school refused his offer to tie his hair back.
Justice Collins said the school’s hair rule, which says hair must be short, tidy, of natural colour, off the collar and out of the eyes, was uncertain and therefore breaches the law.
“In the present case there is scope for considerable uncertainty about whether or not Lucan’s hair is in fact short,” he said, especially given Lucan’s agreement to tie his hair back.
Justice Collins said the law stated schools must ensure penalties minimised the disruption to a student, and that suspensions are only allowed to protect other students from behaviour that constituted a harmful or dangerous example.
He said Mr Melloy was obliged to use suspension only as a last resort, and that there was little evidence Lucan’s behaviour set a harmful or dangerous example.
Lucan returned to the school earlier this week pending the High Court ruling and Mr Melloy said the school was continuing to manage that.
“It is business as normal.”