Discrimination Law, Human Rights, and Schools

The Human Rights Act 1993 prohibits discrimination on various grounds in certain matters, including employment, access to places, vehicles, or facilities, sport, and in educational establishments. Racial discrimination and sexual harassment are also illegal.

The Human Rights Act 1993 makes it unlawful for an educational establishment, controlling authority or its managerial or teaching staff, on any of the prohibited grounds of discrimination, to:

  • refuse or fail to admit a person as a pupil or a student;
  • admit a person as a pupil or a student on less favourable terms or conditions than would otherwise be made available;
  • deny or restrict access to any benefits or services provided by the establishment; or
  • exclude a person as a student or a pupil or subject him or her to any other detriment.

However, discrimination is permitted in the following situations.

  • When the educational establishment is wholly or principally maintained for students of one sex, race, or religious belief, or for students with a particular disability, or of a particular age group.
  • When preferential access is given to training facilities to help fit people into employment where it appears to the organisation or association that these people are in special need of training because of the period of time that they have been without regular full-time employment.
  • When training, facilities or opportunities for training, or financial grants are provided for people of a particular age group or different fees are charged on that basis.
  • When financial grants are made to people of a specified age group.
  • Courses or counselling involving highly personal matters may be restricted to persons of a particular sex, race, ethnic or national origin, or sexual orientation.
  • Admission to an educational establishment may be refused where a person's suitability is of a nature that he or she requires special services or facilities that cannot, in the circumstances, reasonably be made available.
  • If a person's disability is of a nature that would create a risk of harm to that person or to others (including the risk of infection). This does not apply if reasonable measures could be taken to reduce the risk to a normal level.

Further, particular stipulations as to school dress and grooming, and disciplinary measures taken in response to refusals to comply with stipulations, may amount to unlawful discrimination in certain circumstances. It is unlawful for an educational establishment or the authority responsible for its control to refuse or fail to admit a person as a pupil or student, or to grant admission on less favourable terms than would otherwise be available, on any of the prohibited grounds of discrimination. It is also unlawful on those grounds to deny or restrict access to any benefits or services provided by the establishment, or to exclude that person, or subject him or her to any detriment. There is no prohibition, however, against discrimination on the basis of age in relation to a person under the age of 16. Discrimination on that basis with respect to a person of or over the age of 16 is unlawful.

It is contrary to the Human Rights Commission Act 1977 and the Race Relations Act 1971 to advertise a course with places reserved for persons of Maori or pacific island descent as being entirely for those persons. It is likewise illegal to refuse to enrol a person of another race in such a course. It is necessary, if the defence of good faith and assisting or advancing persons within a particular group is to be relied upon, for there to be evidence of a need of such persons for that assistance or advancement in order to achieve an equal place with other members of the community.