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Schools & kura

Health, safety, and wellbeing

Discrimination in schools

What is discrimination?

Human Rights Act 1993

Discrimination is when you are treaty unfairly because of your gender, race, religion, ethnicity or disability. The Human Rights Act (the Act) makes certain types discrimination illegal.

Discrimination is against the law if it happens:

  • because of certain reasons that are in the Act (this includes race, gender, religion, or sexuality), and
  • in a “public area of life”.

Schools are public areas of life, so discrimination that happens at school is covered by the Act and likely to be against the law.

Not all discrimination is against the law. For example, an all boys school can refuse to enrol you if you are girl and this is not illegal discrimination.

For more information, see the chapter “Discrimination” in the Community Law Manual

Access to education and discrimination

Human Rights Commission, Resolving discrimination and harassment

It is against the law for a school to treat you unfairly in ways that affect your right to education. They can’t discriminate against you because of race, sexuality, gender, religion or disability by:

  • refusing to enrol you
  • giving you less favourable terms of admission than those provided for other students
  • giving you less benefits or services than other students
  • suspending or expelling you.

For example, a school cannot refuse to enrol you because you have disability, or make you pay more than other students to go there.

What do schools need to do to comply with the laws about discrimination?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 127(b); Statement of National Education and Learning Priorities

The Education and Training Act says that schools must give effect to relevant student rights in the Human Rights Act and the New Zealand Bill of Rights.

The schools board must take all reasonable steps to eliminate racism, stigma, bullying, and any other forms of discrimination within the school.

To achieve this, a school might:

  • ask students about their experiences of racism, discrimination and bullying and use that information to reduce these behaviours
  • have processes in place to address concerns
  • create a safe and inclusive environment where culture is valued.

What is reasonable will depend on the situation.

For example, if the school is organising an overnight school camp and you need separate room, it would be reasonable for the school to arrange that. It might not be reasonable for the school to find a walking trail that can be accessed with a wheelchair. See the previous section “Access to education and discrimination” for more examples of illegal discrimination in schools

What can I do if I’m being discriminated against at school?

Bring it up with the school. Talk to your teacher first, and then the dean or principal. Seek support from whānau or a trusted friend if you decide to raise anything with the school.

If you are unhappy with their response, there are different outside agencies you can complain to, and services that can support you. See “Raising concerns and making complaints” later in this guide

For more information, see “Taking action: what you can do if you’re discriminated against” in the Community Law Manual

Next Section | Rainbow rights

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