School Uniform guidelines embrace human rights principles

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Image from Human Rights Commission Website

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Wellington, May 28, 2022

The Human Rights Commission has released a set of uniform guidelines to help schools align their policies with human rights principles.

The non-binding guide is framed around a Te Tiriti o Waitangi and human rights lens and follows a series of consultations with students and teachers from 11 schools around the country.

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said that schools in New Zealand should uphold Te Tiriti in their policies and procedures while giving effect to the rights of students.

The need for guidance

“There is currently no legislation around school uniforms and hence we thought that it is necessary to have a guide to help schools to ensure students’ human rights,” he said.

Mr Foon said that inclusive policies can improve students’ mental health and well-being.

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon (RNZ Photo)

“Students should feel comfortable and culturally safe so that they can focus on their learning, this is why we decided to produce these guidelines as no one’s right to education should be hindered,” he said.

New Zealand School Trustees Association President Lorraine Kerr endorsed the guidelines.

“I have read through the material, and it is a great resource. It uncovers all the unnecessary problems and protests that have nothing to do with actual learning,” she said.

Maori and self-determination

In terms of Te Tiriti, it recognises Maori Tino Rangatiratanga and Oritetanga, affirming the right of Maori to self-determination over themselves and their taonga and ensuring Maori status symbols are given the same standing as Pākehā status symbols.

“This means Maori students should be able to wear items that are taonga to them, like tā moko, pounamu or Hei tiki,” Mr Foon said.

Te Tiriti also guarantees’ Maori Oritetanga (equality), where Pākehā symbols of status in uniform are expected, Maori students should be able to wear their symbols of status instead.

Mr Foon said that considering Te Tiriti and human rights when making uniform policies ensures that important aspects of students’ identities such as culture, religion and accessibility are respected and supported.

“School Boards should ensure that their policies and practices not just reflect New Zealand’s cultural diversity but embraces it,” he said.

He said that if these steps are taken, they can help eliminate racism, bullying and other forms of discrimination.

“The Human Rights Act prohibit discrimination on a number of grounds like sex, religion, ethnicity, race or disability and schools need to make sure that their uniform policy does not infringe on these grounds,” Mr Foon said.

He said that a truly inclusive uniform policy can be a great way to distinguish students while instilling a sense of community and pride in both their individual and school identity.

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