Australia

Queensland tribunal hears Cook Islands boy's case for long hair at school

Cyrus Taniela was sent to school by his mother Wendy with his hair in a bun. Source: Facebook/AAP

A Cook Islands boy growing his hair for cultural reasons was told to cut it or he would be unenrolled by his private Brisbane school, a tribunal has been told.

A five-year-old Cook Islands boy growing his hair for cultural reasons could be expelled from a private Christian school in Brisbane for breaking its uniform rules.

Cyrus Taniela was told by the Australian Christian College Moreton, near Brisbane, in February to abide by school policy, which requires 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 her son's hair was being grown ahead of a traditional haircutting ceremony.

The hearing, which started on Monday, is expected to focus on whether the school breached Australia's anti-discrimination laws and if it is lawful to exclude Cyrus if he does not cut his hair.

The family of Australian Christian College student Cyrus Taniela was reportedly told to cut his hair despite plans for a traditional haircutting ceremony.
The family of Australian Christian College student Cyrus Taniela say his hair is being grown for a traditional ceremony.
Facebook

"The nub of it is will he be unenrolled if he does not cut his hair," the family's lawyer Chris McGrath said.

The tribunal has been told it is Cook Islands custom for the eldest son of a family not to have his hair cut before he comes of age.

Cook Islands elder Nga Toka says such ceremonies are usually prayer-filled events with lots of singing and dancing.

The child's hair is tied with ribbons and the community is called on by a pastor administering blessings to help cut it, she said.

The Taniela family has decided this will happen on Cyrus's seventh birthday, in about 14 months.

Cyrus was initially sent to school with his hair in a bun but the Taniela family was told this was also against the school's rules.

Ms Taniela then sent him to class with his hair in a braid but the school also objected to this, the court heard.

Despite this, the school has agreed to allow Cyrus to continue attending pending a decision by the tribunal.

The school's lawyer, Christopher Murdoch, has asked Ms Taniela why her family had not brought the ceremony forward.

Jason and Wendy Taniela leaving a Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing.
Jason and Wendy Taniela leaving a Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing.
AAP

"When it comes to this kind of ceremony it is almost like organising a wedding," she said.

She said aunties needed time to sew a traditional blanket, which takes longer than 12 months to complete.

Mr Murdoch also asked how many haircutting ceremonies she had attended or blankets Ms Taniela had sewn, implying the traditions were not commonplace.

Ms Taniela told him none, as she is Samoan and this is a Cook Islands tradition based on Cyrus's father's family's beliefs.

Questions were also asked about why Ms Taniela and her husband, Jason, had not read the school's uniform policy thoroughly before sending Cyrus to the school, where his sister was already enrolled.

"Like any parent always rushing ... I signed the form and sent it through so we could get him onto the campus," Ms Taniela said.

The tribunal has heard Cyrus's haircutting ceremony was initially planned to be an intimate affair with only 50 to 100 immediate family members attending.

But the school's actions and resulting media attention now meant many more people wanted to attend and it would take longer to organise.

The tribunal is expected to make a decision before semester two begins in July.

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