For a child, the jump to high school can be a shock to the system, facing down a new set of rules and routines. Chikayzea Flanders can certainly relate to that, after being accused of breaching the uniform policy in September 2017. However, the Rastafarian boy was then given an ultimatum about his dreadlocks.
Residents of London, England, Chikayzea and his mother Tuesday Flanders practise the Rastafari religion, sporting dreadlocks as a result. With primary school behind him, the 12-year-old started to prepare himself for his secondary education. And following a number of meetings and conversations, his new school was found.
Chikayzea became a student at Fulham Boys School, located in west London. Dressed in his new uniform, the youngster arrived for his first day at the institution in September 2017, ready to kick-start the next stage of his life. However, everything changed later that day.
“I was in class, and my head of house came in,” Chikayzea recalled on UK television show This Morning in September 2017. “She asked me if I [could] come out of class for a second. Then she told me that by Monday my hair [had] to be cut.” Unsurprisingly, he was taken aback by the instruction.
“I was upset and a bit worried,” Chikayzea continued. “Because I really wanted to go to that school.” Indeed, in the school’s eyes, the youngster’s dreadlocks were violating their appearance policy. However, his mother Tuesday quickly questioned this, as she consulted their rulebook for clarification.
According to mom Tuesday, there was no mention of dreadlocks in the school’s written rulebook. Instead the appearance policy said that students couldn’t grow their hair below their shirt collar. With that in mind, she still believed that Chikayzea would have no issue, as he tied up his hair.
After being told to cut his hair on that first school day, Chikayzea returned the next week still sporting his dreadlocks. And this led to a rather strict punishment. “On Monday, they took me out of class and [brought] me into isolation,” he told TV show This Morning. “They [took] me into the head of house office.”
With Chikayzea now being taught on his own in isolation, mother Tuesday made a complaint to Fulham Boys School. As the situation began to escalate, she referred back to initial meetings she had with the principal before the start of that school year, noting her son was with her.
“I went to several different meetings at the school,” Tuesday recalled to This Morning. “Everything they sent us to go to, I brought my son with me. I had a conversation with the [principal]. He shook my hand, he shook Chikayzea’s hand. He said, ‘Welcome to Fulham Boys School.’ As far as I was concerned, [his hair] wasn’t an issue.”
With that in mind, the school’s principal Alun Ebenezer offered his views on the matter. “[Tuesday] did meet me prior to term starting,” he told This Morning in a follow-up interview. “Lots of boys come [to open evenings] with all sorts of different hair, so I don’t single any boy out.”
“I just say, by the time you come to Fulham Boys School, you need to have conformed to our policy,” Alun added. Unhappy with the school’s response to her complaint, Tuesday decided to take legal action against the institution. She then contacted the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
With the EHRC in her corner and funding the case, Tuesday could fight for her son’s right to keep his dreadlocks at school. In her mind, Fulham Boys School discriminated against Chikayzea’s beliefs. However, close to a year later the situation has been finally resolved.
The two parties agreed a settlement prior to the case being taken to the UK’s High Court in September 2018. “Chikayzea Flanders and his mother have now reached an agreement with Fulham Boys School, with both sides accepting that the school’s enforcement of its uniform policy and ban on dreadlocks resulted in indirect discrimination,” an EHRC spokeswoman revealed.
However, while Tuesday welcomed the result, she wanted to avoid such an escalation. “I didn’t want to take legal action,” she admitted to London newspaper the Evening Standard in September 2018. “I pleaded with the school and tried to educate them.”
Tuesday added to the Evening Standard, “Other people went to the school and spoke to them and sent them letters explaining the meaning of my son’s hair. I didn’t want [his] face splashed all over the paper,” she said. “It’s not right that parents have to go to this sort of length to get justice.”
Tuesday spoke of the difficulties she faced prior to the legal action, and the position it ultimately put her in. “The whole thing is not a fashion for me or my family,” she told This Morning. “All my boys have the same dreadlocks, my partner has dreadlocks, [and] my hair is down to my ankles. Why would I change it for a school?”
Tuesday said to This Morning, “What message am I sending for my son? Am I saying it’s alright for people to dictate your religion and beliefs?” Following the settlement, the EHRC confirmed that Chikayzea could return to the school, but the family had other ideas.
Indeed after everything that happened, Chikayzea has no intention of returning to Fulham Boys School. Instead, he will remain at The Hurlingham Academy in west London. As for the principle of the former, Alun Ebenezer, while he couldn’t talk about the settlement, he continued to stand by his institution’s policies.
“All I can do is confirm a complaint relating to our uniform was received last year concerning a boy no longer on roll at the school,” Alun told the Evening Standard. “The complaint has been dealt with under our published complaints procedures. We continue to rigorously enforce our policy and uphold the distinctive ethos of the school.”
Following the settlement, EHRC chairman David Isaac gave his thoughts on the matter. “At the heart of this issue is a young boy who is entitled to express his religious beliefs and access an education,” he told the Evening Standard. “No child should be prevented from attending their chosen school because of inflexible uniform policies.” No doubt Tuesday would certainly agree with that.