Lucan Battison wins long-hair court battle

LUCAN BATTISON: The teenager has won his court case against St John's College over being suspension for having long hair.
LUCAN BATTISON: The teenager has won his court case against St John's College over being suspension for having long hair.

School rules need to be "reasonable and certain", says the family of Lucan Battison, who today won a court battle over the length of his hair.

The 16-year-old St John's College Hastings student successfully fought to keep his locks after he was suspended for refusing to cut his hair.

JOL BATES: Lucan Battison's lawyer says the boy is following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King.
JOL BATES: Lucan Battison's lawyer says the boy is following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King.

Read the ruling here

Lucan and his parents, Troy and Tania said they were pleased with the judgment but "disappointed it had to go to the High Court".

"Our preferred option all along was mediation," the family said.

Lucan was kicked out of St John's 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".

Lucan offered to tie it back in a bun, but this was not accepted.

The year-12 student went to the High Court in Wellington on Monday for a judicial review of the suspension and a ruling that the school's hair policy was unclear.

Today Justice David Collins ruled in favour of Lucan, stating the suspension was unlawful, as was the hair rule set out by the school.

In a statement the family said: "Lucan has had the same hair style for three years at St John's. In 2014, when girls' hair lengths at school aren't questioned, why should the rules be different for boys?"

The family said that despite what had been said in the media, "Lucan never broke the rules".

"The rules which we signed up for, were 'off the collar and out of the eyes'. Lucan's hair, whether in a hair-tie or not, has conformed to this, but the new principal shifted the goal posts."

In this case it was the school that didn't follow the law, the family said.

"We'd like, in particular, to thank Justice Collins for giving us a fair hearing," they said.

"He heard the full extent of our case and as a result has made this judgment accordingly.

"However if we didn't think St John's was a good school, Lucan would have been quite happy to change schools. We admire and thank his teachers for their support.

"If people never questioned certain issues, we would be a very backward society today."

The Battisons said they had been overwhelmed by the support they received, but the criticism the parents had received had been "hurtful and unnecessary".

"We love our son and we've always taught him to stand up for what he believes in," the said.

"This is different to not having a respect for rules. He wears his uniform with pride and that will not change.

"All Lucan wants is to continue his education and get back to playing in the 1st XV."

St John's College principal Paul Melloy said the school was "disappointed" by the decision.

He said the school board would consider the judgment "in terms of its impact, both on our school and on other schools".

"It is not about the individual student but being able to manage our school in a positive equitable environment, this includes compliance with our rules," he said in a statement.

In his judgment, Justice Collins noted Lucan had naturally curly hair, which didn't endanger Lucan or others.
"The sole issue is the length of Lucan's hair," he said.

"Lucan is willing to wear his hair tied back in a neat bun. When he does this his hair is above his ears, off his collar and out of his eyes."

Justice Collins said that while Lucan's behaviour "constituted disobedience", the degree of seriousness of it wasn't enough to warrant a suspension.

"Even if Lucan's continued disobedience was continued disobedience that was a harmful or dangerous example to others, Mr Melloy was still obliged to use suspension as a last resort," he said.

The court also ruled that Melloy failed to impose a penalty that minimised disruption to Lucan's attendance.

Justice Collins said other options, for example, prohibiting Lucan from representing the school in sport until he cut his hair, could have been considered first.

While the school's uniform rule and other rules relating to dress standards were carefully prescribed, the same couldn't be said for the hair policy, "which could be interpreted differently by students, parents, teachers, the principal and the board".

On Wednesday Lucan returned to school after Justice Collins asked it to have him back, pending his decision, because he was concerned at the amount of time Lucan had spent away from class.

Justice Collins ordered the school board to cover Lucan's court costs for the judicial review.

In his statement, Melloy said the school was continuing to manage having Lucan back at school and it was "business as normal".

The Dominion Post