Wed | Sep 30, 2020

Alando Terrelonge | Emancipendence and unlocking hair discrimination

Published:Friday | August 7, 2020 | 12:10 AM
Sherine Virgo speaks with the media outside the Supreme Court in Kingston on Friday July 31, 2020 following the verdict in a case where her child was denied attending Kensington Primary School as a result of having dreadlocked hair in 2018. The court ruled
Sherine Virgo speaks with the media outside the Supreme Court in Kingston on Friday July 31, 2020 following the verdict in a case where her child was denied attending Kensington Primary School as a result of having dreadlocked hair in 2018. The court ruled that the action was not unconstitutional.

There’s a natural mystic flowing through my hair …

On August 1, 1834, enslaved Africans in Jamaica and other British colonies received their freedom from slavery. On August 6, 1962, we gained independence from Britain, making Jamaica an independent democratic nation. As we celebrate this year’s emancipendence, we must recognise and honour the memories of our forefathers who fought bravely against a tyrannical colonial system that kept them in bondage for hundreds of years.

Our forefathers gave the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that we would live free in democratic societies, where our rights would be protected by law, and where our children would be guaranteed the right to be educated, free from discrimination and prejudice.

Our ancestors recognised that there could be no growth or prosperity in any nation that does not prioritise the fundamental rights and freedoms of its children. Principal among these rights is the right of every child to receive an education, free from discrimination and prejudice. As a government and a people, we hold this belief and salute our forefathers for fighting bravely to ensure the fundamental rights and freedom we enjoy today.

Power to Make School Rules

Under the Education Act, the administration of all our public educational institutions is vested in the respective boards of management that have been appointed for each institution. Under the Education Regulations, 1980, the power to make school rules is entrusted to school boards in consultation with staff and students of the institution.

In September 2018, the ministry developed a Student Dress and Grooming Policy in accordance with principles of moderation and non-discriminatory norms, health, cleanliness and decorum. These guidelines were developed following a series of consultations with key stakeholder groups, inclusive of the Church, students, parents, principals, teachers and school boards.

The education ministry has categorically stated over the years that school grooming rules must be rights-based and that no student is to be prevented from admission or attendance at a public educational institution by reason of non-conformity with a school rule prohibiting a particular hairstyle in circumstances where the wearing of that hairstyle by the student is based on religious or health reasons.

The dynamic nature of living in a modern democratic society is that rules and norms change. Times change, students change, school boards and administrators change, cultural norms change, policies change, and so, too, must laws.

In late 2019, I recommended that the act be amended to reflect a modern and culturally inclusive provision that prevents our children from being barred from any educational institution on the basis of wearing locks as an ordinary hairstyle irrespective of religious reasons.

My recommendation notes: “No child must be discriminated against or denied access to any school, educational institutions, or any place of learning on the basis of that child wearing locks.” My hope and goal is that, as a ministry, we get school boards and educators to adhere to the policy of the Government, and have it reflected in revised grooming policies that protect the rights of all children.

I commit to the amendment of the Education Act and its regulations, to rectify all anomalies which allow for discrimination against any of our children.

There is a natural mystic flowing through my hair.

SYMBOL OF CULTURAL HERITAGE

As we all move forward as stakeholders in the education of our nation’s children, we must move away from any view that locks are a deterrent to, or distraction from, a good education or learning practices, or that locks are a source of bad hygiene and disorder in class. Locks have become an international symbol of our rich Jamaican cultural heritage that is admired and celebrated the world over. Locks themselves have become a symbol of the global movement of black pride and black excellence.

In that regard, our school boards, principals and educators must recognise that schools are not just institutions of academic pursuit, but that they also serve as lifelong learning centres in the truest and widest sense. Learning centres where children are moulded into complete social beings. Centres where they learn a greater appreciation of self, pride, history of their people, the importance of their cultural heritage, and where they learn to respect the rights of others.

Schools must never be seen as centres of discrimination or centres that perpetuate negative stereotypes of our society. As we celebrate our emancipendence, we must unlock ourselves from the vestiges of colonial oppression that view black hair and black hairstyles as unkempt, unclean or unhygienic. Let us never forget that a sound education for all must be the fundamental principle of every educational institution, public or otherwise, if we are truly to develop the human capital of our nation.

Alando Terrelonge is state minister in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com