Long-haired schoolboy gets reprieve

JO MOIR
Last updated 17:55 23/06/2014
LUKAS HAYWARD/Stuff.co.nz

Lucan Battison leaves the High Court in Wellington.

Jol Bates
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ
JOL BATES: Lucan Battison's lawyer says the boy is following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King.

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Long-haired pupil Lucan Battison will return to St John's College on Wednesday while he waits for the judge's decision on his suspension over his hair.

Justice David Collins, who is concerned at the time Lucan has been away from class, asked the school to consider taking him back tomorrow and not to take any further disciplinary action in the meantime.

Richard Harrison, the lawyer representing the school, said the principal, Paul Melloy, was happy to oblige but asked for a day's grace so he could speak with staff and students.

"Because of the publicity...feelings are running high and he's asking for some time," Harrison said.

The review at the High Court in Wellington was held today to determine whether the board of trustees was fair in suspending Lucan Battison from St John's College in Hastings on May 22.

The judge has reserved his decision.

Justice Collins has said he was concerned at the length of time Lucan has been out of school and wanted the boy to be returned pending his decision on the review.

The school lifted the suspension on May 30, allowing him to return if he cut his hair first. Lucan offered to tie his hair back, but this was unacceptable to the school.

Justice Collins questioned whether Melloy had exhausted all other disciplinary options before suspending Lucan.

When he asked whether Melloy had considered excluding him from the 1st XV, Harrison said that seemed "pretty harsh".

"And suspension isn't?" Collins replied.

There were 430 boys to consider when setting the rules.

"These young men need clear boundaries," Harrison said.

The options for the school became limited when Lucan said to the principal in a meeting that he would not cut his hair.

When Lucan was suspended inquiries were made for him to attend Napier Boys' High School, where his hair length would not be an issue.

However, St John's College is a Catholic school, Lucan's father is a Catholic, and Lucan is doing well there, said the Battison's lawyer Jol Bates said.

'HE'S A ROLE MODEL'

Bates said Lucan should be "lauded" for challenging an arbitrary rule, not publicly criticised.

"Lucan will learn nothing from being told to pull his head in," he said.

His unwillingness to give in follows in the example of Martin Luther King, Bates said.

"People with long hair are not trouble-makers ... he's a role model."

A number of high-achieving people, including judges and lawyers, had attended the college over the years, some with long hair, he said.

"We're not dealing with the army or police, we're dealing with students," he said.

Bates said the family had tried to engage the school in mediation leading up to today but the school "wasn't interested".

If a similar rule existed for girls there would be "outrage" and that made it difficult for Lucan to understand why his rights were different.

At some point in the last three years, where there had been a change of principal, the goal posts had been shifted, Bates said.

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"This is a hard-working Kiwi family not here to cause trouble," he said.

"They have decided to stand up for something they believe in."

SCHOOL RULES

But Harrison said that Freedom of expression is curtailed in a school environment all the time.

"In some senses it's encouraged but in terms of discipline...young people are told all the time you can't associate with this person."

This isn't a case of wanting to wear a badge with a political message - "it's someone who doesn't want to cut his hair because it doesn't look good".

BRAVERY AWARD

Bates told Collins that not only had Lucan received a bravery award for rescuing two swimmers in January last year, he was also doing well at school and in the 1st XV rugby team.

In suspending Lucan, "the principal took the wrong approach", he said.

Legally Lucan should be back at school, Harrison told the court.

Parents bought into the college's rules, which in this case is the uniform policy of 'off the collar and out of the eyes'.

There are 430 boys at the college yet "no-one has joined the Battisons in this application".

"You've got a school community who signed up to these rules, year in, year out."

NERVE-WRACKING WAIT

Following the judicial review Lucan said he felt the day had gone fairly, but it would be a "nerve-wracking" wait for a decision.

He was looking forward to returning to school on Wednesday while he waits to hear the outcome of the judicial review and said it was "a bit overwhelming it went this far''.

At one point over the last month he considered leaving the college and going to Napier Boys' High School but he likes St Johns and wanted to stay.

"It's the people there and all the teachers. I just like there.''

His father said he would do it all again - even if the outcome is not in his son's favour.

"If it wasn't going to get resolved now, 10 or 15 years down the track someone else would have a go.''

He said it was "high time in 2014 in New Zealand" that somebody's hairstyle wasn't a problem.

"For us personally it was about Lucan being able to express himself and go to school. He never wanted to be a rebel, he just wanted to be able to tie his hair back.''

The Battison's lawyer, Jol Bates, said Justice Collins' decision to get Lucan back to school was the sensible one.

"These matters shouldn't be played out in the courts in my view,'' he said.

"I think the family have had their fair day and I might be speaking out of turn...but they might just move on if unsuccessful.''

"They've had their day in court,'' Bates said.


- The Dominion Post

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