A response from the Government to a claim scheduled to be heard in the Constitutional Court on Monday has added to the distress to at least one of the parties involved.
Sherine Virgo, mother of a then five-year-old girl who was blocked from entering Kensington Primary School because of her dreadlocked hairstyle, filed a claim in 2018 arguing that the St Catherine-based institution’s policy against the hairstyle was in breach of her daughter’s constitutional rights.
Virgo said she was shocked when she saw the response by the Attorney General’s Chambers, which sought to justify the rule.
“It is submitted that the objectives that were sought to be achieved by the rule and/or policy were the maintenance of an acceptable level of hygiene, as well as the maintenance of discipline and order which would enhance the effectiveness of the teaching and learning time,” read paragraph 47 of the response filed on September 3, a copy of which was seen by The Gleaner.
Paragraph 48 added: “It was targeted at hairstyles that were found to be the source of bad hygiene and disorder in classes, which ultimately reduced the effectiveness of the teaching and learning experience.”
The response also noted that the child’s freedom of expression had not been breached. It contended that the child’s parents subscribed to the Nazarene vow, but there is nothing which indicates that the child took a conscious vow and deliberate decision to subscribe to this idea and that her hairstyle was a manifestation of her belief in that idea.
Rastafarians who take the Nazarene vow do not cut their hair.
Virgo has since asked for the intervention of Prime Minister Andrew Holness to clarify the Government’s position on the admission of persons with dreadlocks in public schools.
In a letter to Holness dated September 16, Virgo expressed disappointment in the response given by the Attorney General’s Chambers.
“Still, persons who are placed in high authority to represent our nation continue to only belittle, scorn and degrade persons in the dreadlocks community! How can someone look at a little girl and blatantly classify her as ‘nasty’, ‘unsanitary’, ‘dirty’ – all because of the way she wears her hair?” the parent questioned in a two-page letter.
“I cannot believe that this kind of discrimination, harassment and public humiliation is being dished out to my child and family because of a school policy. I write this letter with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes,” she stated.
Making reference to Holness’ apology for the State’s role in the 1963 Coral Gardens Massacre and the presence of State Minister Alando Terrelonge, who also has locks, in his Cabinet, the mother expressed disbelief at the State’s response to the suit.
“I find it hard to believe that you, Mr Prime Minister, … would allow the attorney general to say that my husband and I have forced dreadlocks and religion on our child and that she was not given the chance to choose for herself and, therefore, cannot express herself by wearing dreadlocks,” Virgo added.
The Supreme Court last August granted an injunction preventing the board of management of the school from blocking the then five-year-old girl from entering the school because of her hairstyle.
The injunction was granted on a motion filed by their attorney-at-law Isat Buchanan on July 18 on behalf of the parents of the child.
The parents, at the time, were given an ultimatum that their daughter had until August 29, 2018, to remove her locks to enter grade one in September in keeping with the school’s policy.