Deborah Haile, Manchester News (UK), Mar. 17
A TEENAGER was sent home from school after the headteacher ruled she was the wrong race to have a braided hairstyle.
Olivia Acton, 13, was told she could not join her classmates at Middleton Technology College because her tightly plaited hair was too “extreme” for the strict uniform policy.
However, two other pupils at the school who have an Afro-Caribbean background are allowed to attend the school with similar hairstyles because it reflects their cultural heritage.
The teenager usually has her hair brushed straight but had it braided during a family holiday.
She was stunned to be turned away when she returned to school. She was told she can only go back to the classroom if she unpicks the plaits.
Olivia’s father, Michael, says the school’s rule is discriminatory and should be changed. But the school insists the uniform policy is an important way of maintaining standards and ensuring all youngsters are a part of the school community.
Mr Acton said: “The headteacher is saying it’s extreme for my girl to have braids. I’m disgusted by the decision.”
Middleton Technology College headteacher Allison Crompton confirmed that braided hairstyles were generally banned in the school but she would make exceptions for hairstyles which are a reflection of cultural heritage rather than a fashion statement.
Ms Crompton said: “We don’t allow any extreme hairstyles of any description at the school. We are a high-achieving school with high standards and we don’t allow any street culture into school.
“We are very strict on appearance. Wearing a school uniform signals that children are ready and willing to be a part of the school community. We have smart children who work in a purposeful way because that’s the ethos of the school.
“If we didn’t allow some leeway for their cultural and ethnic background I think it would probably be discriminatory.”
The row began when Olivia, from Alcrington, was excluded in February for a day for her failure to comply with the school’s rule.
She told the school the braids could not be removed for two weeks, and was told that during that time she could return to school but would be taught in the learning support unit. Olivia chose to study at home and has not returned to school since while both parties refuse to give way over the hairstyle.
Rochdale MP Jim Dobbin is now trying to negotiate a compromise, but he admits he doesn’t believe the school has reasonable grounds to keep Olivia away.
He said: “The family visited my surgery recently and I have asked the LEA to mediate with the school. I personally do not consider the hairstyle in any way outrageous and I hope Olivia can return to full time education immediately. I do not consider this to be a reasonable exclusion.”
Coun Colin Lambert, Rochdale Council’s spokesman for education, said: “The school should concentrate on what goes into the students’ heads and not what is on their heads.”
(Posted on March 18, 2005)
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