Race discrimination found in school’s attempt to unenroll student

Young Cyrus Taniela’s right to maintain a culturally specific hairstyle at school has been upheld by Queensland’s Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Cyrus is Cook Islander, Niuean and Samoan, and the first-born son in his family. His hair has never been cut and will remain long until he has a traditional hair cutting ceremony, as is the practice in many parts of the Cook Islands and in Niue.

Caxton Legal Centre acted in the race discrimination proceedings against Cyrus’ school, which had proposed to unenroll him because of his long hair.

Cyrus’s mother, Wendy Taniela, said “I’m so happy about the decision, I’ve only ever been worried about my children and the impact on them. Of course, this is a positive outcome for everyone and I’m excited, it puts my family in a better place and we can go about our normal lives.”

“For us, this decision has given us peace. We now have time to reflect on what is important; which is making sure our kids get the best education available without restrictions because of who they are. Everyone can live their best life here in Australia and it’s important to remember who you are and where you come from and be proud of your heritage and culture.”

Caxton Legal Centre human rights lawyer Brittany Smeed, who acted for the family, said “It was a privilege to assist the Taniela family and to help them maintain their cultural practices. We regularly run race discrimination cases because racial equality and cultural rights are essential to the ‘just and inclusive Queensland’ we are working to realise.”

Director of Human Rights and Civil Law at Caxton Legal Centre, Bridget Burton, agrees.

“Embracing racial diversity at school is essential to realising every child’s right to an education. All schools and other institutions with rules that potentially discriminate on the basis of race should take the time now to review their policies.”

President of the Cook Islands Council of Queensland Inc (CICQ), Archie Atiau, who supported the family, was delighted with the result saying “It’s not only a win for the family but a win for people who come from countries of strong cultural traditions who struggle to find a voice to represent them. We hope this case will set a precedent right across Australia where the cultural rights of individuals need to be considered.”

The CICQ (www.cicq.com.au) supports the Cook Islands community in Queensland, which has a scattered population throughout the state of upwards of 50,000 people who are affiliated with a community group or church organisation under the umbrella of CICQ. The umbrella body is a centralised hub of information and resources accessible to the community.

The published decision is available at http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/qld/QCAT/2020/249.html.

Media contact: Bridget Burton, Director, Human Rights and Civil Law Practice, Caxton Legal Centre: (07) 3214 633