School must cough up $24,000 for hair bill

LUCAN BATTISON: The teenager won his court case and now his school must cover some of his legal costs.
LUCAN BATTISON: The teenager won his court case and now his school must cover some of his legal costs.

A Hastings school which lost a High Court battle over suspending a student for refusing to cut his hair has been ordered to pay more than $24,000 in costs.

Last month Justice David Collins ruled in favour of 16-year-old St John's College student Lucan Battison, who successfully fought to keep his locks after being suspended.

Lucan was kicked out of college on May 22 after ignoring requests from the school to cut his hair, which the school said failed to meet its requirements of "off the collar and out of the eyes".

He offered to tie it back in a bun, but that was not acceptable to the school.

Collins ruled the suspension was unlawful, as was the hair rule set out by the school.

Yesterday Lucan's dad, Troy, said the sooner things were all sorted the better.

"We're just ready to move on and have everything done and dusted."

He said Lucan had been busy at school catching up on work and his teachers had been giving him a hand to get up to speed.

The Battisons' lawyer, Jol Bates, said costs of $24,159 had been awarded, which were a contribution towards the family's legal expenses - about two-thirds of actual costs. The appeal period of 20 working days did not close until July 25, so there was still a chance the school could fight the costs, he said.

The school and its board of trustees could not be contacted for comment yesterday but its lawyer, Richard Harrison, said the total costs were not "out of the ordinary".

"This isn't a situation either party wanted . . . the school just wants to get back to normal keep things running smoothly," he said.

The Ministry of Education provides a school's funding, including legal expenses, within the school's operational funding.

Head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said if a school requested financial assistance "over and above their operational funding", the ministry would look at its financial situation and any impact it might have on students.

"If we found the school was in serious financial difficulty, financial assistance may be offered."

School Trustees Association president Lorraine Kerr said the school's budget would have been set in November last year but the board would have some strategy in place.

It may be a case of "rejigging the budget or a contingency plan", she said.

"The board wouldn't have gone into something like this without a strategy in place."

Secondary Principals' Association president Tom Parsons said the school would have considered the impact and cost of losing the case before it went to court.

"They may even have insurance under personal grievance or something similar, although in those cases insurance companies would recommend settling outside of court because it's usually cheaper," he said.

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