A private Christian school in Brisbane has been found to have discriminated against a five-year-old Cook Islands boy for threatening to expel him for having long hair, grown for cultural reasons.
The Australian Christian College Moreton was ordered to apologise to Cyrus Taniela after it told his family the boy's hair must be cut by the start of semester two on Monday, or he'd have to leave.
The school said Cyrus's hair, that he wore in a bun, breached school rules requiring boys' hair to be neat, tidy, and not hanging over their faces.
His mother, Wendy, took the matter to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, saying Cyrus's hair was being grown for a traditional haircutting ceremony.
A hearing last month focused on whether the college breached the anti-discrimination and human rights acts, and if it was lawful to expel the boy if he did not cut his hair.
The school denied it was discriminating against Cyrus and said it would treat any student disobeying school rules the same.
But the tribunal on Friday found the college had breached Queensland's anti-discrimination laws.
QCAT member Samantha Traves ordered the school to end its bid to expel Cyrus and send a written apology to his family for its actions.
"I find that there was direct discrimination on the basis of race," she wrote in her decision.
Ms Traves also rejected the school's argument that allowing Cyrus to attend class with long hair could lead to "a loss of discipline" and "further pressure on the principles underlying the uniform policy".
"While I accept that it is important for schools to have uniform policies that require certain standards of dress and appearance be maintained, I do not think it is reasonable to apply those policies without exception," she said.
However, Ms Traves rejected Cyrus's family's bid for compensation, saying there was no evidence he had suffered any emotional distress and the college had allowed him to attend school while the court battle played out.
Earlier, the tribunal heard it is a Cook Islands custom for a family's eldest son to grow his hair until he comes of age.
Cyrus's family has decided this will happen on his seventh birthday, in about 13 months.
Cook Islands elder Nga Toka told Ms Traves haircutting ceremonies are usually prayer-filled events with lots of singing and dancing.
The child's hair is tied with ribbons and a pastor administers blessings as members of the community help cut it, she said.
The parties have two weeks to file submissions for cost orders.
Australian Associated Press