Cornrow row: Dunedin school’s U-turn a relief for student Lewis O’Malley-Scott

A Dunedin teenager is relieved he is now allowed to wear cornrows to school, but still does not feel the cultural significance of the hairstyle has been understood.

King’s High School year 12 student Lewis O’Malley-Scott, 16, who is of African-American descent, was stopped by rector Nick McIvor while leaving school yesterday and was told he could wear his hair in cornrows.

The decision is an about-face by McIvor, who last week told Lewis, whose hair naturally forms an afro, he could not attend class if he was wearing cornrows.

The hairstyle was deemed “extreme” and therefore against the school’s uniform policy.

Lewis’ 18-year-old sister, Orianna, took to social media to allege McIvor’s behaviour was racist.

“We are African-American — cornrows are part of our culture,” she wrote.

“This, in itself, is nothing less than casual racism.”

Lewis’ situation, and the school’s uniform policy, quickly gained national attention, and yesterday McIvor issued a statement saying the school had changed its stance.

The school would ensure “significant cultural need” was included when hairstyles were considered.

McIvor did not respond to a request for an interview.

Lewis yesterday said he was relieved he could wear cornrows again.

He said the school had asked to meet him and his family next week.

“I guess he is still trying to look at other options … or maybe it is for an apology.”

He and his family still felt the cultural significance of cornrows was not understood.

“They did not seem to believe cornrows were actually a hairstyle that was worn by people from my culture.

“In my opinion, he [Mr McIvor] just needs to get out more and visit other parts of the world, then he will notice they are worn a lot.”

Criticism this week of the King’s position came from a former head prefect and former Returned and Services Association chief executive Dr Stephen Clarke, who called the school’s stance on cornrows “ridiculous” and said it had opened itself up to ridicule.

It seems there are a range of policies at other Dunedin schools, although most principals did not return calls yesterday.

Otago Boys’ High School’s uniform and grooming policy is online and states haircuts “must be neat and appropriate for school” and braids, cornrows, dreadlocks, mullets and plaits are not permitted.

Rector Richard Hall did not respond to requests for an interview yesterday.

Kaikorai Valley College principal Richard Geerlofs said diverse hairstyles, including cornrows, were accepted at the school, but hair had to be a naturally occurring colour.

“It’s a way that students can express themselves and to recognise the diversity within our school,” he said.

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