A student was suspended by the Principal for continued disobedience of the school’s hair rule (short, tidy, off the collar, natural colour, out of the eyes, no extremes – plaits, dreads, mohawks).

The suspension was upheld by the Board’s disciplinary committee.

The High Court has held the suspension to be unlawful.  The continual disobedience was not shown to be harmful or a dangerous example to other students at the school, and this is required before a Principal can suspend.  The Board’s conditions (that the student cut his hair to the satisfaction of the Principal) were unreasonable.

The Court found that it had to give appropriate weight to the rights and interests of the student.  The Principal failed to ensure that serious disciplinary outcomes (suspension) are reserved for truly serious cases.  A less drastic disciplinary sanction was not explored.

Any penalty imposed must also minimize disruption to a student’s school attendance.  The school overlooked this requirement.

The Board’s disciplinary committee also failed to have regard to those requirements when it continued the suspension.   In addition, requiring the student to cut his hair to the satisfaction of the Principal went beyond the requirements of the school’s rule.

The committee should have considered whether the student was in breach of the rule.  The rule does not require a student to cut their hair short.  The student offered to tie his hair up and this would comply with the rule (hair appears to be short, tidy, off his collar and out of his eyes).

The High Court also found that the hair rule was unlawful because of its uncertainty.

A rule must be sufficiently precise to allow students (and parents) to fully understand the rule and comply with it.  A rule that left a discretion to the Principal to decide was too uncertain to be lawful.  In this case there were conflicting views of whether the student’s hair complied with the rules and it was open to varied interpretations.

The Court invited the school to consider whether it should have a hair rule in light of the Bill of Rights (autonomy, individual dignity and freedom of expression).

If a school is to have a rule, it must be clear and certain in its application and any punishment for a breach must be the least necessary in the circumstances and interfere as little as possible with a student’s attendance at school.  Suspensions must be reserved for truly serious matters.