A guest post by Anne Hunt:
If you don’t like the school rules, choose another school seems to be the approach taken by most people who have become embroiled in this latest ‘long-hair’ debate.
What seems to be overlooked is that this was a case of a parent trying to get a response from the principal and board of trustees before a child was enrolled at his in-zone school.
Any child living within the home zone is entitled at any time to enrol at that school. That is the law, not some personal sense of ‘entitlement’.
The fact that this school happened to be Auckland Grammar has fuelled the latest frenzy.
Let’s be clear: James was not breaking any school rules because he is not even enrolled at Auckland Grammar as yet.
Heidi had lived in the Grammar zone for at least a decade before James was born.
On his behalf, Heidi was simply taking the precaution of checking out well in advance whether James would be facing the risk of expulsion if he attended his Auckland Grammar as his in-zone school.
Her father who was already a well-established musician had been expelled from Freyberg High School shortly before he was due to sit University Entrance, affecting his future employment.
Obviously, she did not want James’ education disrupted by similar issues.
So she took the responsible course of action by writing to both the School Principal and Board of Trustees.
In this letter, she stated that James is not prepared to cut his well-groomed hair and therefore realises that he might sacrifice an education at Auckland Grammar if Auckland Grammar adheres to the same rules that cut short the education of his grandfather fifty years beforehand.
She also said that James was prepared to tie his hair back to keep it off his collar.
So James was not seeking preferential treatment.
Heidi pointed that a school’s board must perform its functions and exercise its powers in such a way as to ensure every student at the school is able to attain his or her highest possible standard in educational achievement.
And she also referred to s75 of the Education Act 1989, which says that except to the extent that any enactment or the general law of New Zealand provides otherwise, a school’s board had complete discretion to control the management of the school as it thinks fit.
Obviously Heidi mentioned the Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
But more importantly, she reminded the school principal and board of trustees that even taking into consideration the sporting and cultural activities James will engage in, he will come under the management of the school for only about forty hours per week.
What about the remaining 120 hours each week when he is not under the management of the board?
Is the board exceeding its authority by imposing a rule that affects a student when he is no longer under the jurisdiction of the board?
James cannot re-attach his hair when he takes his school uniform off.
Heidi could have quietly enrolled James at this prestigious school, and then taken the school to court to test this issue if the school disciplined him for having long hair.
Instead, she wrote to the school principal and the board so that she would be able to make an informed choice on the school James will attend in 2019.
The school did not have the courtesy to respond so she sent her letter to a reputable newspaper.
Fortunately, James is a well-adjusted child and will take the cyber-bullying in his stride.
But by approaching the media, she discovered that the school principal did not see the need to take her letter to the Board of Trustees.
That, as far as Heidi is concerned, is not professional enough when she had also sent a copy of her letter to the board who could access the legal expertise to evaluate the issues she had raised.
When she eventually enrols James at a school, I am confident it will be a school that cares as much about complying with the law as the principal is about enforcing the school rules imposed upon their students.
Anne is the grandmother of James. She is also the author of a book on David Collins, the Judge in the Lucan Battison case.