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Students Have Right To Be Free From Discrimination At School

Under the Human Rights Act it is unlawful for schools to refuse enrolment or subject students to detrimental treatment on any of the grounds of discrimination in the Act, including sexual orientation and family status, says Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission.


Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt says that education policy and law reinforces the right to be free from discrimination, and that it is extremely disappointing to hear of the many ways in which our LGBTIQ+ whānau have been impacted recently.


“Students regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics have a right to be free from discrimination at school. Students and their whānau who believe they have been discriminated against at school may contact the Human Rights Commission for information or to lodge a complaint,” said Hunt.


The Commission can provide dispute resolution services, such as mediation, to resolve such complaints.


“The Human Rights Commission broadly supports a school’s right to maintain and express its religious beliefs and special character, however we would be concerned if any actions by a school had an exclusionary effect on parents and children because of their ideological views about marriage or gender.”


“It is not uncommon for diversity of thought and theological interpretation within a religious belief system; therefore, we would hope that school environments can support the teaching of its unique beliefs while not making these prohibitive to people’s ideological views. We would also hope that schools are welcoming to all students and families, including those within the LGBTIQ+ community.”


The legislation provides that State Integrated schools can retain their special character, including giving preferential enrolment to students who have a religious connection to the school.


However, the legislation also states that a primary objective of boards is to provide a physically and emotionally safe place for all students and staff, give effect to relevant student rights, including the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993; and to take all reasonable steps to eliminate racism, stigma, bullying, and any other forms of discrimination within the school.* 


“The Commission is beginning to develop and collate resources for educational, religious and cultural settings to support institutions to hold respectful and safe conversations with relevant communities,” said Andre Afamasaga, Manager Conversion Practices Response Service.


“As part of our broader education and prevention programme under the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Act 2022, we hope to work in these settings to deepen our understanding of these issues. The safety and voices of rainbow people, with support from their loved ones, will be central to this work.”

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