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Father told preppie topknot not allowed

A Queensland father has lost a bid for an order to allow his long-haired son to start prep at a school which mandates short hair for boys.

“ZA”, on behalf of his son “XA”, filed a complaint with the Queensland Human Rights Commission (QHRC) in December last year, alleging contravention of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) on the grounds of sex discrimination in relation to his son’s topknot.

ZA applied to Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) this month for an interim order to allow XA to start school on January 22. ZA was told by the school XA would be sent home if he attended school with non-compliant hair, and would not be allowed to return unless he had a haircut.

The application was prompted by the QHRC matter being set for conciliation conference on 8 February, after the start of the school year.

In her decision handed down on Thursday, Senior Member Fitzpatrick refused the interim order under Section 14 of the Act, ruling there was no prejudice to the QHRC complaint if an interim order was not granted.

She also stated XA was unlikely to establish a prima facie case of direct discrimination and that the balance of convenience did not favour XA.

She said the complaint to the QHRC was framed in terms of gender equality.

“ZA says that the current hair style guidelines restrict choice and freedom for boys’ appearance in a way based on gender that is more restrictive and therefore disadvantages boys compared to girls,” she said.

“He says that the invasive nature of controlling hair choice extends into a child’s life outside of school and therefore their personal autonomy and human rights in their personal life.”

Senior Member Fitzpatrick said ZA’s application stated XA’s long hair was “typically” worn in a “neat topknot style”.

“There is no suggestion of any racial, cultural, religious or gender identity significance to the manner in which XA wears his hair,” she said

“Given the very young age of XA which I infer to be four or five years, it is reasonable to assume that XA’s hairstyle is a styling choice made by his parents and that the views set out in the complaint as to restriction and disadvantage are the views of ZA.”

The school argued that at a pre-enrolment interview, ZA was told XA would need to have his hair cut before starting school, in accordance with the school’s Code of Behaviour. A school enrolment contract, as well as the Code of Behaviour, was signed by ZA and XA’s mother in September 2022.

In its submissions to the tribunal, the school included an extract from the code, which states “pride in appearance is a measure of self-esteem and loyalty to the college”:

“Hairstyles must be in keeping with the neat and conservative style of the uniform, and as defined by the college. This means that hair must be a natural colour, and fashion trends or extremes of hair length are not acceptable. Fringes must be above the eyebrows. Long fringes swept or held back by hair product are not acceptable. Boys’ hair must be trimmed about the collar and the ears, and must not have any significant difference in length between the side and the top; girls must tie hair back from the face with college-approved accessories only,” it said.

The school also pointed out that XA already had two siblings attending the school.

Senior Member Fitzpatrick said without an order, the result would be that XA must receive a haircut to attend school, or as threatened by ZA, he would be sent to a different school and his siblings withdrawn from the school.

“In either case the conciliation process conducted by the QHRC can still proceed and outcomes can be sought which meet the circumstances,” she said.

Senior Member Fitzpatrick also concluded that XA was unlikely to establish a prima facie case of direct discrimination.

“I accept the submission of the school that there is no evidence XA is unable to comply with the requirement that he cut his hair and that XA’s hair length is a matter of personal choice,” she said.

She said ZA accepted the school’s code on enrolment of XA.

“The code is intended to encourage the whole school to be disciplined, rule abiding, well presented and unified,” she said.

“Relaxation of the rules would undermine the purpose and the expectations of all the parents who enrolled their children at the school because of the ethos reflected in the code. That is a strongly arguable position.”

Senior Member Fitzpatrick said attending a different school would not be a detriment to XA, given his age, and nor would a haircut.

“The balance of convenience favours the school and the application of its code to all students,” she said.

Senior Member Fitzpatrick said her determination also met her obligations under Section 58 of the Human Rights Act (Qld).

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