Schoolboy wins battle to keep long hair


Wellington -

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A New Zealand schoolboy has won a court battle to keep his hair long.

Sixteen-year-old Lucan Battison was last month suspended from his Catholic high school in the town of Hastings.

St John's College Principal Paul Melloy said that Battison had breached a rule that states students must keep their hair short, tidy, off their collars and out of their eyes.

Battison argued his naturally curly hair would look messy if cut short and he was prepared to wear it in a bun to comply with the school's rules.

In a decision released on Friday, New Zealand High Court judge David Collins found that both Battison's suspension and the school's hair rules were unlawful.

The judge ordered the school's board to pay court costs.

The judge found the schoolboy's actions hadn't reached the legal threshold for suspension, which stipulates a student's "gross misconduct or continual disobedience" is harmful or dangerous to other students. The judge ordered the school's board of trustees to pay the court costs.

And he found St John's didn't provide enough clarity in its hair rules to ensure students could comply with them.

While the school disagreed with Battison's hairstyle, it didn't dispute his description of himself as a "typical teenager”. In fact, the school described him in court as a "nice young man”.

The judge noted that "an insight into Lucan's character can be gleaned from the fact that in March this year he received a civil bravery award for participating in the rescue of two young women, who nearly drowned in dangerous swimming conditions at a Hawke's Bay beach”.

The judge also noted that Battison represented St John's in rugby and loved attending the school, in part because his faith was important to him.

Battison's parents, Troy Battison and Tania Doidge, said in a statement their son had never broken the rules because his bun kept his hair off his collar and out of his eyes.

"In 2014, when girls' hair lengths at school aren't questioned, why should the rules be different for boys?" they said.

"The criticism we have received as parents has been hurtful and unnecessary," they said.

In his ruling, the judge noted that one of Battison's lawyers had tried to provide the school board's disciplinary committee with statements from two hairdressers, one of whom said Battison's hair was already short and would "look like 'an untidy afro' if it was cut shorter," but that the committee chose not to accept the testimony.

Battison was allowed to return to his school earlier this month after the judge said he could stay in class while the case progressed.

In a statement issued on Friday by St John's, Principal Paul Melloy said: "Naturally we are disappointed of the decision made in Wellington today."

"The Board of Trustees are taking time to consider the judgment made by Justice Collins in terms of its impact, both on our school and on other schools." - Sapa-AP

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