School splits hairs over 'exotic' hairstyle

Cape Town - Friends joined Ammaar Watson, 14, and his family in protesting outside Belgravia High School on Monday in support of the Grade 9 pupil and part-time model's decision to continue wearing his hair in what his school says is an 'exotic hairstyle'.

Ammar says he has received verbal and written warnings for more than a year about his mid-length curly hair, but is worried that if he cuts it, his work for a modelling agency would be compromised.

He has also been called to two disciplinary hearings, and says the school has now told him he must cut his hair or move to a 'more liberal institution'.

His mother, Rafeeqah Watson, said she thought her son was being victimised. He was the only child sent to detention who was kept, after it ended at 3.20pm, for a 'principal's detention'.

'I feel as if my son is being kept a prisoner at the school.'

Watson acknowledged that the school's code of conduct should be followed, but said it should be applied across the board. She said her son had been treated unfairly as other pupils had uncommon hairstyles, while some had dyed their hair.

'He's always had this look - it's his natural look.'

Ammaar was signed with a modelling agency at 9.

He said he believed he got a lot of work because of his look, and that he would rather move schools than cut his hair.

His mother said she was not prepared to have him change schools.

Also at the protest was a pupil with dyed hair. She said she had not been sent to detention.

A pupil who had longer, dyed hair, said he had been sent to detention a few times, but was not prepared to change his hairstyle.

He said pupils got into trouble often for their hairstyles and were sometimes called out of class, missing work.

Attempts to reach the school's principal for comment were unsuccessful.

Paddy Attwell, director of communication for the Western Cape Education Department, said school governing bodies could determine dress codes as part of their code of conduct. Pupils were obliged to comply in terms of Section 8.4 of the South African Schools Act.

'If pupils and parents are unhappy with the dress code, they should take this up with the school's governing body.

'The parent is welcome to report any cases of inconsistent application of the code of conduct, and the department will take this up with the school.'

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Cape Times

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