School tells 8-year-old boy with dreadlocks to change ‘unusual’ hair

Zoey Wineera-Brown received a letter from her son's school saying he needed to change his “unusual” hairstyle. 

Te Pirihi is eight years old and loves his dreadlocks but Finlayson Park School says his hair goes against the school’s policy on “normal” hair.

“For them to be writing about this boy and using the words ‘unusual’ and not ‘normal’, it just didn’t sit right with me,” says Zoey.

The letter says: 

“I am writing to remind you that our school has certain expectations for our students so they do not stand out as unusual.

We require hair colours and styles to be natural and normal but we are concerned that your child Te Pirihi Brown has come to school with unusual hair.

We are requesting for this to be returned to normal.

There are many reasons for our expectations, one of which is the “teasing” element.

We regularly remind parents of these issues in our newsletters and we expect all parents to respect our school policies.”

The school’s policy says: “students must have normal hair. This means students should not have dyed hair, unusual cuts etc.”

Ohinga asked Finlayson Park School for an interview, but they declined. Instead principal Shirley Maihi sent a letter saying the school’s policy is the standard for all whānau in their kura.

Schools have the right to make policies (including school uniform policies) that they consider necessary for the control and management of the school.

“Nowhere in the policy does it say that you cannot have dreadlocks,” says Zoey. 

“At the minute it’s just saying ‘normal'. But what is ‘normal’?”

So is it time to reassess policies in schools around hair? Zoey says it’s time to celebrate individuality. “We’ve made such big strides over the last ten, fifteen years, and maybe it’s time that schools kind of catch up.”

This is part of our reo Māori series, Ohinga, created by Mahi Tahi Media, with funding from Te Māngai Pāho and the NZ on Air Public Interest Journalism Fund. Stay tuned for a new episode every week.

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