Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Students want Reid to get real about grooming policy

Published:Saturday | June 17, 2017 | 6:00 AMChristopher Serju
Senator Ruel Reid, minister of education, youth and information.

The pending national policy on grooming in schools is not likely to find favour with the umbrella organisation which represents students' councils across Jamaica.

"That's not helping anybody," Alnast·zia Watson, outgoing president of the National Secondary Students' Council (NSSC) told The Gleaner in response to yesterday's Gleaner story headlined 'Not hair police'.

Education Minister Ruel Reid is quoted as saying that the long overdue document prepared by the National Council on Education still gives school administrators a lot of discretion in determining the final standards for hairstyle and dress codes for students.

He was speaking at a Gleaner Editors forum on Thursday, a day after the NSSC issued a press release articulating the students' frustration at the lack of a uniformed policy, with the discrepancies between different schools being a major concern. Watson said the failure to involve students in the decision-making process is at the heart of their concern and the education minister needs to become more involved.

"We are really calling on the minister to intervene because you can't leave it to the schools' discretion to come up with these policies. Somebody (else) needs to review them," Watson argued, adding that most of the sanctions are ridiculous.

"You can't deny students the right to an education and lock them out of school for half an inch off the skirt. Oftentimes, some of them (teachers) go outside with tape measure to measure the skirt. If you need a tape measure to measure, then it couldn't be that bad. So we do want the minister to intervene and for some amount of consultation with students because, when consultations are being made, they are made with parents. My mother and father aren't the ones wearing the uniform. I am the one wearing it!"

... Frustration at boiling point

According to Alnast·zia Watson, outgoing president of the National Secondary Students' Council (NSSC), student frustration is now at a boiling point in regards to the haphazard grooming policy across schools.

"It's a topic of discussion now and the council really believes that it is getting out of hand and we can't just sit back and not do anything about it because we are the ones being dreadfully affected by it," the upper sixth former insisted.

For this reason, punitive measures utilised by administrations must take into consideration the dignity of the child, as well as work to ensure that the child's development is the utmost priority, she said.

"As students, we recognise the need for disciplinary measures in schools. It is imperative that the school rules are adhered to in order to foster a conductive learning environment. The NSSC recognises Article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which emphasises "any form of school discipline should take into account the child's human dignity. Therefore, governments must ensure that school administrators review their discipline policies and eliminate any discipline practices involving physical or mental violence, abuse or neglect", the council said in its release.

"The evidence suggests that the same sets of students are consistently being sent home for the issue of improper grooming. It is quite easy to regard these students as troublemakers. However, it may simply be the case that sending them home is not effective as a rehabilitative tool. Rather, it is preventing the child from their right to an education, which is provided for in the UN Convention and the Education Act of 1980."

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com