The school hair rule that may be racist
A PACIFIC Islander family are at war with a Christian collage over school policy that requires the cutting of their five-year-old son's traditional hairbun.
His haircutting ceremony is not due until he is seven, and the family are considering taking their fight to the Human Rights Commission.
The Courier-Mail can reveal the family of Cyrus Taniela contacted the Queensland Human Rights Commission after the school refused to compromise on its uniform policy.
Cook Islands Council of Queensland president Archie Atiau questioned whether the school had considered the long-term impact cutting the boy's hair would have on him.
"Mental health issues among Pacific Island children is at its highest rate where Cook Islanders top that list," Mr Atiau said.
He confirmed the family had the support of the council.
It follows warnings from the Queensland Human Rights Commission that the school's uniform policy could be in breach of the law, which prohibits indirect racial discrimination.
Cyrus started Prep at the Australian Christian College Moreton this year with his hair knotted neatly in a bun on the top of his head.
But his mother, Wnedy Taniela, said she was recently told by his teacher the principal wanted Cyrus' hair cut because it did not conform with school policy.
"For us, we decided that it would be when Cyrus turned seven that we would cut his hair. We thought he'll have finished kindy and be able to understand what is happening," Mrs Taniela said.
"Both my husband's cultures (Cook Island and Niuean) have hair cutting ceremonies.
"Traditionally, (on the Cook Islands) it (boy's hair) is lovingly cared for by the boy's Aunts and all the women and then there is a ceremony to cut his hair and traditionally the whole village celebrates."
The Courier-Mail contacted the school for comment and was referred to the school's Facebook page, where principal Gary Underwood had posted a message which said he had "spent time in the Cook Islands and is an enthusiastic supporter of Islander people and their customs".
"Early in 2019 Mr Underwood appointed a cultural team leader who has developed programs and has been working to connect students with the various cultures represented at the college," the statement said.
"Further, to be consistent, he said, all students had to conform to the board-approved rules: 'Boys' hair is to be neat, tidy, above the collar and must not hang over the face. Extreme styles, ponytails and buns are not permitted'."
Ms Taniela said she had tried for a week to find a compromise with the school, but had been unsuccessful.
She said people had told her she should have known the school's policy before enrolling her son, but "we had never had a school interview with the Principal or anyone who mentioned this to us".
A Queensland Human Rights Commission spokeswoman told The Courier-Mail the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act prevented discrimination on the basis of race at all educational institutions, including non-government schools.
"Cultural practice is generally accepted to be included under the attribute of race," she said.
"Indirect discrimination is where there is a term or condition imposed that people with an attribute protected by the Act (in this case, race) have more difficulty complying with than people without that attribute."
She said a policy that asked a student to cut their hair before their hair cutting ceremony would "appear to fall under that category".
"Were a complaint to be lodged with us along similar lines to the case you refer to, it is likely it would be accepted," she said.
The Taniela family were planning to cut Cyrus' hair when he turned seven at a big gathering of family and friends to mark the start of a new part of his life.
It was something they have been looking forward to since he was born, Mrs Taniela said.
"That is why this is so shocking for me. It's not like his hair is going to be long forever," she said.
"And he is always tidy, always presentable.
"I was just so astonished when his Prep teacher approached me.
"Cyrus was so excited about starting school. He wakes up in the morning and is ready to go."
"I know they have policies and procedures. But there was never anything about this."
University of Southern Queensland's Pasifika and intercultural education expert Dr Eseta Tualaulelei said it was a human rights issue, even an issue of discrimination against natural hair which has recently been legislated against in America.
"Look at the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 29 says that children have the right to respect and learn their own culture, own identity and language and especially that of their parents," she said.
"If the hair doesn't get in the way of the child's social emotional wellbeing, if it's not a safety issue, if it's not an issue of learning then the school might want to reconsider their policy.
"This is a matter between the school and family, but the school needs to look at both the intention and aim of their policy and see if its getting in the way of this child's learning because the child has the right to education, the right to celebrate their culture."