School's braids ban ruled racist
A highly successful school's anti-gang ban on unconventional hairstyles, including cornrows, has resulted in "unlawful, indirect racial discrimination which is not justified", the High Court has ruled.
The test case decision is a victory for the family of African-Caribbean teenager "G", who wears his hair in cornrow braids as part of a family tradition.
G, who cannot be named, and his mother challenged a refusal by St Gregory's Catholic Science College in Kenton, Harrow, north London, to let G through the school gates with his braids in September 2009, when he was 11.
A judge has ruled that the hair policy was not unlawful in itself, "but if it is applied without any possibility of exception, such as G, then it is unlawful".
Mr Justice Collins, sitting in London, said in future the school authorities must consider allowing other boys to wear cornrows if it is "a genuine family tradition based on cultural and social reasons".
Even though the family's application for judicial review was successful, G, now 13, does not wish to return to the school, which he left in tears on his first day.
"This is an important decision," said G's solicitor, Angela Jackman, after the hearing. "It makes clear that non-religious cultural and family practices associated with a particular race fall within the protection of equalities legislation."
The judge stressed the school was "not in any way racist" but had made "an honest mistake" in failing to allow for exceptions.
The fear was that allowing exceptions to the "short back and sides" rule would undermine the anti-gang policy, but the judge pointed out that exceptions were already made for Rastafarians and Sikh boys who wore hair beyond the collar, and similar exceptions should be made for African Caribbeans.
He stressed he was not ruling on whether the actual exclusion of G was unlawful back in 2009. It had been suggested that G's family might bring a county court damages action over the case. That would be the time to decide whether or not the school had dealt with G's desire to wear cornrows in an unlawful manner, said the judge.