Editorial: Time to re-think the school rules?

Lawson Brown High School grade 12 pupil, Unathi Gongxeka. Picture: FREDLIN ADRIAAN
Lawson Brown High School grade 12 pupil, Unathi Gongxeka.

As the matric trial exams get under way today, one Port Elizabeth schoolgirl is at the centre of a storm over how she chooses to wear her hair.

With neither Lawson Brown High nor 18-year-oldUnathi Gongxeka backing down, the Grade 12 pupil’s crucial trial exams could be in jeopardy.

Simply put, she and the school are in a stand-off –if Unathi doesn’t “tidy up” her hair, it says it will not permit her to write her exams.

For Unathi it is a matter of principle. She says black girls like her are being discriminated against since the white and coloured kids are allowed o wear their hair down, but the black girls not.

The rules are inconsistent, she argues and she may well have a point.

Lawson Brown’s code of conduct does seem vague, perhaps even subjective, on the matter.

They simply state that pupils’ hairstyles have to be neat.

Unathi’s would appear to meet this definition.

After all these years, why is it that the seemingly trivial issue of hair – and what sort of looks and styles are acceptable or not – is still such a minefield in many of our former Model C schools?

Every major newspaper in the country has carried stories of pupils who believe they have been discriminated against because of the way they look.

Often these stories centre on pupils’ rights, or lack of, to display aspects of their culture or religion through their hair or dress.

Even something as innocuous as a bindion the forehead has been known to explode into the ugliest of disagreements.

These issues are not only still making headlines 22years after apartheid, but are landing some parents, pupils and schools in court.

It is not a stretch to say that many of our schools’ rules are archaic and as such could be in violation of the constitution.

At the same time schools do have codes of conduct in place for a reason.

Parents and pupils who feel strongly that aspects of a school’s code are unfair shouldn’t just remain quiet, perhaps for fear of victimisation, but lobby for the rules to be changed.

And, since the interpretation of hair, dress and religious policies is still so contentious, is it not time for a provincial, if not nationwide, review of schools’ policies on the matter.

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