Human Rights Commission launches school uniform guidelines aimed at making policy more 'inclusive'

What students can wear in class is set by schools - but the Human Rights Commission says it's time they had guidelines to make sure the rules are more inclusive. 

The guidelines compiled by the Human Rights Commission include that Māori should be able to wear pounamu instead of a tie and people shouldn't be able to wear offensive symbols like the confederate flag and a swastika.

But what about a 'Make America Great Again' (MAGA) T-shirt, which represents the movement of former US President Donald Trump?

"I guess this is where the minefield comes in," said Khadija Leadership Network founder Tayyaba Khan, who helped craft the guidelines. "We're talking about differences between cultural, religious and political affiliations and expressions through the way you dress."

Khan told AM host Melissa Chan-Green that many schools weren't as diverse as they should be, and the guidelines would help education facilities have open conversations to set their own rules - including rules around 'MAGA' paraphernalia.

"This is where I think it's really important for schools to be open - to have that discussion - and then be able to set their own individual guidelines around what works for their students," she said.

"If I was in that school and someone wore a Trump t-shirt, given that I'm of a Muslim background, I would feel quite threatened because of Trump's policies… So, I guess, I would be against it but would I actually blanketly make a rule that, actually, no one can wear Trump t-shirts? That's really not my call to make."

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said the Human Rights Commission thought it was necessary to give schools a guide, given there's currently no legislation around school uniforms.

"The guidelines are there to support the human rights of people and also the right to education, the right to culture, the right to religion and faith, and also acknowledge the Treaty of Waitangi in action," he told AM.

"Generally… pounamu are for Māori - they are a cultural identity of Māori - and so under the Treaty they should actually be allowed to adorn those at school."

Some schools also force boys to cut their hair short but the Human Rights Commission's guidelines say Māori men who have traditionally had long hair should be able to wear it that way. Chan-Green asked Foon whether schools should be able to dictate hair length at all. 

"They could if they want to but it would be nice for schools to actually acknowledge the cultural differences between cultures, and also allow people to wear the hair length that they should be able to," he said. 

Foon said the guidelines were about students feeling comfortable and "culturally safe".

"The important thing is to actually allow students [to be] in a safe environment, a respectful environment that has been created by the school… and not be asked about their culture or anything like that."

Meng Foon.
Meng Foon. Photo credit: File

Foon said the guidelines could help eliminate racism, bullying and other forms of discrimination.

Statistics show only about 55 percent of students were attending school regularly and the guidelines could help absent children return to class, he said.

Read the full guidelines here.