Girls who want to wear pants or shorts at a Southland high school have to see a guidance counsellor first.
James Hargest College in Invercargill is in the process of updating its uniform but in the meantime, girls who want to wear unisex pants or shorts must have it cleared by their parents. To do that, they are required to visit a counsellor.
Principal Andy Wood said the talk with a guidance counsellor first was to make sure they had "thought through the possible reactions of other kids" if they wore the pants or shorts. He did not expand on what those reactions might be.
Wood and the board chairman Chris O'Connor did not answer Stuff's questions about whether a guidance counsellor visit was necessary, if students would be asked about their sexuality, or if visiting a guidance counsellor was an attempt to pressure students not to wear a different uniform.
Wood said the school, which has a roll of about 1870 students, was in the process of updating its uniform to have a option of shorts and pants designed for girls after they received increasing feedback in 2018 that girls would like the option.
"In the meantime, as an interim measure we decided to ask girls who wished to wear the boys' shorts or pants to go via the counselling staff in order to check they had their parents' support, given the very small number of girls currently wearing pants."
Students at the school cross-dressed during the last week of the 2019 school year but Wood did not respond to questions about whether they might have been reprimanded.
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O'Connor did not answer the question of whether girls would be required to still visit the guidance counsellor once a female version of shorts and pants had been finalised.
Ministry of Education enablement and support deputy secretary Katrina Casey said allowing students to choose from flexible uniform options, regardless of their gender, was one way a school could support its culture of diversity and inclusiveness.
Asked if the Ministry endorsed the school requiring girls to see a guidance counsellor, Casey replied school boards were free to make school rules on a wide range of matters including uniforms.
If parents had any concerns about a particular school's requirements they should formally raise those with the board, she said.
In 2019, Fiordland College in Te Anau agreed that its students could wear "gender neutral" uniforms.
The school's uniform was put under the microscope on social media, with some saying it was outdated and calling for change.
Principal Lynlee Smith said the school took the stance that items of uniform were uniform, meaning anything could be worn by either sex and there was no distinguishing between summer or winter pieces.
Some girls had chosen to wear shorts or pants but a lot had stayed with skirts and kilts. No boys had opted to wear the girls' uniform, Smith said.
Smith declined to comment on James Hargest College's requirement that girls visit a guidance counsellor first but said Fiordland College did not introduce that policy.
Central Southland College, in Winton, has allowed female students to wear shorts for more than 20 years.