June 26, 2014 11:37 pm

New Zealand boy wins court battle to keep hair long at Catholic school

In this Monday, June 23, 2014 photo, sixteen-year-old Lucan Battison, left, with his lawyer, Jol Bates, arrives at the High Court in Wellington, New Zealand, where Battison is fighting his suspension from his Catholic high school because of his long hair.

AP Photo/New Zealand Herald, Mark Mitchell

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – A New Zealand schoolboy on Friday won a court battle over his Catholic high school to keep his hair long.

Sixteen-year-old Lucan Battison was suspended last month from St. John’s College in the town of Hastings. Principal Paul Melloy said Battison had breached a rule that states students must keep their hair short, tidy, off their collars and out of their eyes.

But 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.

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In his decision, New Zealand High Court judge David Collins found that both Battison’s suspension and the school’s hair rules were unlawful.

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 Friday by St. John’s, which contains grammatical errors, 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.”

© The Canadian Press, 2014

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