All UK schools have been directed by Britain’s equality watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), not to penalise students for wearing their hair in natural Afro styles.
“Discriminating against pupils in relation to or because of their hair may have a negative effect on pupils’ mental health and wellbeing,” reads the new EHRC directive which applies to schools in England, Scotland and Wales.
The directive was spurred by growing worries over laws prohibiting students from sporting certain hairstyles, including braids, cornrows, and plaits, especially in light of Ruby Williams’s long-running legal dispute with her school over her Afro.
At 14, Afro-wearing Ms Williams, had been singled out of her class by a teacher who advised her to apply chemicals to straighten her hair, before sending her home. She had to braid her hair before she was permitted to return to school.
“They destroyed her,” said her mother, Kate Williams, asserting her daughter lost interest in school and her attendance dropped after the incident. “You shouldn’t have to change your hair to get an education.”
In 2020, Ms Williams prevailed in a case against the Urswick School in Hackney, which claimed that her Afro did not adhere to the uniform guideline and prevented other students from seeing the whiteboard clearly.
She received £8,500 out-of-court settlement from the school, after three years of legal back-and-forths.
The EHRC had provided financial assistance to Ms Williams in the case against Urswick school which lasted three years.
Similarly, the commission had rendered help to another British student of Fulham boys school, Chikayzea Flanders, a 12-year-old student on dreadlocks.
Mr Flanders’ mother took his West London school to court after the administration claimed that her son’s dreadlocks violated the school’s dress code and kept him apart from his classmates. She argued the locks were significant to their Rastafarian beliefs.
The directive has now barred schools from engaging any disciplinary action against students who wear their hair in natural states.
“We want to put a stop to pupils being unfairly singled out for their appearance in schools. Every child deserves to be celebrated for who they are and to thrive in school without having to worry about changing their appearance to suit a potentially discriminatory policy,” asserted EHRC chief regulator, Jackie Killeen.
Reacting to the new directive, Ms Williams, now 20-years-old, said it was hard to believe “some schools still think it is reasonable to police Afro hair — a huge part of our racial identity.”
“I hope that this will prevent other children from experiencing what I did,” Ms Williams told The New York Times.