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UK Schools Advised Not to Forbid Afro Hairstyles

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The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Britain’s equality watchdog, has instructed all UK schools not to punish students for wearing their hair in natural Afro styles.

The new EHRC guideline, which is applicable to schools in England, Scotland, and Wales, states that “discriminating against students because of their hair may have a negative effect on students’ mental health and wellbeing.”

Growing concerns over rules barring students from wearing specific hairstyles, such as braids, cornrows, and plaits, were the impetus for the instruction, particularly in light of Ruby Williams’s ongoing legal battle with her school over wearing her Afro.

When Ms. Williams was 14 years old, her instructor singled her out of the class and told her to use chemicals to straighten her hair before sending her home. Before she could go back to school, she had to braid her hair.

Her mother, Kate Williams, alleged that the incident caused her daughter to lose interest in learning and that her attendance fell. “Getting an education shouldn’t require you to change your hairstyle.”

Ms. Williams won a lawsuit against the Urswick School in Hackney in 2020, which had argued that her Afro did not follow the uniform policy and interfered with other students’ ability to view the whiteboard properly.

After three years of court battles, the school agreed to pay her £8,500 in an out-of-court settlement.

Ms. Williams received financial support from the EHRC during the three-year legal battle against Urswick School.

The commission had also assisted Chikayzea Flanders, a 12-year-old pupil with dreadlocks who was a British student at Fulham Boys School.

After the administration argued that her son’s dreadlocks broke the school’s dress code and separated him from his peers, Mr. Flanders’ mother brought his West London school to court. The locks, according to her, were important to their Rastafarian beliefs.

As a result of the directive, schools are no longer permitted to punish kids for wearing their hair natural.

Jackie Killeen, Chief Regulator for the EHRC argued, “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.”

Ms. Williams, who is now 20 years old, responded to the new regulation by saying it was surprising that “some schools still think it is reasonable to police Afro hair – a crucial part of our racial identity.”

I’m hoping that by doing this, other kids won’t go through what I experienced, Ms. Williams told The New York Times.

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