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Source: Human Rights Commission

The Human Rights Commission has released a set of uniform guidelines in an effort 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 different kura around the country.

The Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon says schools in Aotearoa New Zealand have an obligation to uphold Te Tiriti in their policies and procedures while also giving effect to the rights of students.  

“There is currently no legislation around school uniforms at the moment so we thought it necessary to have a guide to help schools give effect to students’ human rights in this space.”

Mr Foon says inclusive uniform policies can improve students’ mental health and well-being.  

“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.”

The President of the NZ School Trustees Association Lorraine Kerr has endorsed the guidelines.

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

In terms of Te Tiriti, it recognises Māori tino rangatiratanga and oritetanga, affirming the right for Māori to self-determination over themselves and their taonga and ensuring Māori status symbols are given the same standing as Pākehā status symbols.  

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

Te tiriti also guarantees’ Māori oritetanga (equality), where Pākehā symbols of status in uniform are expected, Māori students should be able wear their symbols of status instead.

Mr Foon says considering Te Tiriti and human rights when making uniform polices 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.”

The Commissioner says if these steps are taken around uniforms, it 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 doesn’t infringe on these grounds.”

He says 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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