Melbourne school will allow black students to keep hair braids after ‘ban’ furore

Melbourne school will allow black students to keep hair braids after ‘ban’ furore

ABC News article | 31st March 2017

Amid a storm of controversy, Bentleigh Secondary College’s principal Helen Hiotis has backed down on the ban she imposed on Year 11 students, twin sisters originally from South Sudan, from wearing their hair in braids to school.

On the back of the public support the twins received after they refused to remove their braids and accused the school of discrimination, Ms Hiotis has since offered the sisters a ‘school uniform exemption’ and would work with the students’ family which will enable them to continue wearing their ‘braided hairstyle’.

Earlier in the week, a teacher at Bentleigh Secondary College pulled one of the twins, Grace, out of class and took her to a corridor, where her twin sister Tahbisa was waiting, and ordered them to remove their braids.

“We were told that our hair doesn’t represent the school,” Grace says. “It was a real shock.”

The twins have worn braids since they were babies and say their state school is attacking their African culture, particularly as the girls have attended the school since year 7 and say their braids have never been an issue before.

“It’s not a problem and it doesn’t affect our education. They are asking us to look like everyone else,” Grace said.

The school tried to justify its position by saying that white students who have returned from holidays in Bali have also been asked to remove their braids or cornrows.

“That’s different,” Tahbisa says. “That’s cultural appropriation.”

Their fellow students also spoke out in support of the girls.

“It’s part of their culture, it’s the type of hair they have,” one student said.

“That’s their tradition, that’s what they’ve been grown up to do,” another student said.

The school had said that the decision wasn’t based on race and was only related to the uniform policy. But it has since backed down and said it is comfortable with students expressing their cultural heritage and will allow the girls to wear the braids as an exception.

Several media outlets reported on the story, and you can view the brief video report from Channel 7 here

The ABC also released a radio report, focusing also on the wider issue of hair being a battleground for black students, despite school uniform policies having to comply with anti-discrimination legislation.

Another example, 14-year-old Mildura teen Caleb Ernst was threatened with expulsion from St Joseph’s College if he retained his dreadlocks. The Year 9 student, whose father is Nigerian, said his hairstyle represented his heritage.

“I need to be true to myself,” he said. “This is how I keep my hair tidy. I used to have an afro but I find dreadlocks easier to maintain and I feel more comfortable.”
He is refusing to change his hair and will instead move schools.

Listen to the report here

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