Son’s struggle spurs progress

An MP whose son was forced to cover up a culturally significant tattoo has helped push through new uniform guidelines she hopes will stop the situation happening again.

The guidelines provide guidance to schools on uniform policy to ensure the identities of pupils are respected.

Marli Atu spoke about having to cover his tattoo while at school. PHOTO: THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD
Marli Atu spoke about having to cover his tattoo while at school. PHOTO: THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD

They were unveiled by the Human Rights Commission at Bayfield High School in Dunedin yesterday.

Taieri MP Ingrid Leary said the issue came to her attention after she and her partner gifted their son a tatau, a tattoo symbolising his blended Rotuman and Samoan heritage.

Her son, who was 16 at the time, went to school in Auckland’s North Shore and was told to cover his tattoo as it was against uniform regulations.

After fighting to be allowed to show his tattoo he ended up changing schools.

She heard other stories of pupils going through similar struggles and realised there was a need for formalised guidelines for schools.

She worked on the issue with the Human Rights Commission, which developed the guidelines.

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said it met a range of pupils and teachers to hear their needs before developing the guidelines.

He hoped the guidelines would be used by school boards to create an environment which made pupils want to come to school.

The commission regularly received complaints about schools from pupils and families about microaggressions, small commonplace acts of hostility towards marginalised people.

New Zealand and its communities had changed a lot in recent years to be more diverse and it was the right time for a reset, which he hoped the guidelines would help provide.

Standing among the uniforms at Bayfield High School as the Human Rights Commission announced new...
Standing among the uniforms at Bayfield High School as the Human Rights Commission announced new guidelines for schools yesterday are (from left) Taieri MP Ingrid Leary, Bayfield head girl Sofea Haizal (17) and Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH

Bayfield High School was a good place to unveil the guidelines as the school had been a leader in uniform diversity for some time now, he said.

The guidelines outline the importance of following the 1993 Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender, religion and race among others things.

They contain suggestions for diversity and inclusiveness, such as allowing items of cultural significance and providing non-gendered options for uniform.

Mr Atu said the development was huge.

He was thankful for the guidelines and hoped they would help others who experienced a struggle similar to his.

wyatt.ryder@odt.co.nz

 

 

 

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