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School`s cornrows ban is indirect racial discrimination

21 June 2011 #Employment

The decision by Harrow based, St Gregory`s Catholic Science College to ban an 11 year old from school on his first day for having his hair in cornrows (tight braids close to the scalp), has been branded " unjustified,  indirect racial discrimination" by the High Court.

The boy`s African-Caribbean family challenged the school`s ruling on the basis that the cornrows were part of a family tradition and important to his cultural identity.

Mr Justice Collins ruled that the hair policy was not unlawful in itself, "but if it is applied without any possibility of exception", then it is unlawful. Following the hearing, the boy`s solicitor, Angela Jack man said, "this is an important decision. It makes clear that non-religious cultural and family practices associated with a particular race fall within the protection of equalities legislation".

The School had a "short back and sides" hair policy which the Court accepted was perfectly permissible and lawful, but stated that exceptions had to be made on ethnic and cultural grounds. It was stressed that the school was "not in any way racist" but had made "an honest mistake" in failing to allow for exceptions.  The Judge said the Headteacher had justified the policy as necessary to stop the gang culture prevalent in the area, in which haircuts were used as badges of membership, coming into the school. The fear was that allowing exceptions to the "short back and sides" rule would undermine the anti-gang policy. However, as exceptions were already made for Rastafarians and Sikh boys, the Judge said that a similar exception should have been made for African Caribbeans.

The school has been refused permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal, but they can still go to the appeal judge directly to ask for the case to be reconsidered.

A claim of sex discrimination, on the basis that to allow cornrow hairstyles for girls but not boys was discriminatory, was dismissed by the Court.
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