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Let's discuss school rules

This week’s featured article

ALYSSA I. SMITH

A Japanese public high school has come under fire for its strict policy regarding the color of its students’ hair.

An 18-year-old teen filed a lawsuit in late October seeking ¥2.2 million ($19,000) in damages from the Osaka prefectural government, claiming that her school had ordered her to dye her naturally brown hair black if she wished to continue attending classes.

The young woman’s mother had informed Kaifukan High School before the teen started attending that her hair was naturally brown, but teachers ordered the student to dye it black, according to documents the plaintiff submitted in court.

The student developed a rash and scalp irritation after dyeing her hair repeatedly but her teachers continued telling her that her hair was not black enough, demanding that she comply or leave the school, the petition said.

During one conversation with her mother, the school said it would even demand that blond foreign students dye their hair black because that was the rule, the petition said. The school also has a policy that prohibits students from dyeing their hair.

The school’s decision sparked criticism online, with supporters of the student’s lawsuit describing their own experiences of being forced to conform to the status quo.

Users of social media have argued the issue is important in light of the wider context. With more and more people in high school coming from diverse backgrounds, strict rules regulating the natural appearance of students could be perceived as discrimination.

Twitter user @mi_adhd described her own experiences at school in response to Huffington Post Japan’s coverage of the Osaka story.

“I was originally a brunette, so my mother submitted an ‘irregular dress code’ form when I entered middle school,” the post read. “The school’s insistence that everyone must be the same was one of the reasons I was bullied for being different. We’re not living in ancient times. Even with all this talk of diversity, if the current state of education is like this, there’s no way it will work.”

Twitter user @jaco_hideaki agreed.

“I saw this mentioned elsewhere, but if you consider hair color and skin color to be natural physical characteristics, this is a serious human rights violation,” the post said. “If we’re striving to create a diverse community that accepts all individuals, including people who identify as LGBT, we should acknowledge these aspects as well.”

Supporters of the high school argued that media coverage of the school’s policies was biased. One Twitter user claiming to be a graduate of Kaifukan High School started an account specifically to rebuff the allegations, refusing to believe that their alma mater would treat a student in such a manner.

The Osaka prefectural government, which runs Kaifukan High School, has asked the court to throw out the lawsuit.

Judging by the public’s online reaction, however, the teenager’s recent experience is not an isolated incident and debate over the country’s outdated ideas on conformity look set to continue.

First published in The Japan Times on Nov. 11.

Warm up

One-minute chat about hairstyles.

Game

Collect words related to school, e.g., teacher, class, rules.

New words

1) plaintiff: person who brings legal action, e.g., “He is the plaintiff of this case.”

2) petition: the letter of official claim, e.g., “The lawmaker received a petition.”

3) status quo: the current situation, e.g., “They prefer change, not the status quo.”

Guess the headline

L_ _ _ _ _ _ over student’s d_ _ _ hair confronts outdated thinking in Japan

Questions

1) What is the girl’s reason for filing the suit?

2) What is the policy of the school the girl is attending?

3) What do the supporters of the school argue?

Let’s discuss the article

1) What was your school rule on hairstyle?

2) What do you think about this issue?

3) What do you think schools in Japan need to do?

Reference

多様性のある社会の実現はあちこちで叫ばれ、それに向けた取り組みが促進されています。しかし、学校という特殊な社会においては、必ずしもそうとは言えないようです。 校則が求めるのは生まれつきの違いを大切にすることなのか、全員が同じ見た目になることなのか…。

社会が変わっていく中で、学校教育や校則も変わっていくべきなのか 。

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