The principal of a Queensland private school has said a five-year-old student from the Cook Islands cannot have long hair, even if it is part of his culture.
The Queensland family said they were told Cyrus Taniela had to abide by school rules and cut his hair during his first week of prep.
The family has been planning a traditional haircutting ceremony on the boy’s seventh birthday for years.
In Cook Islands culture, cutting a boy’s hair for the first time is a rite of passage, although there is no set age for the ceremony.
In a statement on its Facebook page, the Australian Christian College Moreton says: “Respecting the College’s policies, procedures and guidelines allows the College to be consistent across its many cultural groups.”
The school says the principal, Gary Underwood, has spent time in the Cook Islands and “is an enthusiastic supporter of Islander people and their customs”.
Underwood says all students have to follow school policy, which requires that all boys’ hair is neat, tidy and not hanging over their faces.
“Extreme styles, ponytails and buns,” are not permitted, according to the statement.
The decision could open the school up to a complaint to the Queensland Human Rights Commission.
A complaint is something the Cook Islands Council of Queensland president, Archie Atiau, says he would support.
Atiau says he is also concerned about the boy’s mental health.
“Not only now, but the long-term effects if he gets to adulthood and realises that he didn’t get the opportunity [to have the ceremony],” Atiau said.
“The family should make the decision as to when his hair is cut.”
Cyrus’s mother, Wendy, said the family had been planning a traditional haircutting ceremony on the boy’s seventh birthday for years.
She said it would be a big cost to bring forward the ceremony planned to be held in Sydney and attended by more than 100 family members.
“[The principal] said, can’t you just bring the ceremony forward?” Taniela told the Cook Islands News.
“But this is a big cost, and we have other family commitments. We don’t all drive BMWs.”
Cyrus’s father, Jason, wanted to continue the haircutting tradition because it meant so much to him, Taniela told the news outlet.