Wed | Sep 23, 2020

‘You would have chaos in schools’ - PTA official says parents must abide by rules

Published:Wednesday | August 5, 2020 | 12:23 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Staff Reporter
Kensington Primary in Portmore - ground zero for a stand-off over hair and school rules between 2018 and 2020.
Kensington Primary in Portmore - ground zero for a stand-off over hair and school rules between 2018 and 2020.

The plea that was at the centre of a constitutional ruling in Jamaica last week would give students carte blanche privilege to justify a departure from school rules under the shield of self-expression, a key parent-teacher stakeholder has warned.

The Supreme Court ruled last Friday that Kensington Primary School did not breach the constitutional rights of a then five-year-old, in 2018, when it requested that her locks be removed in order to enrol in the institution. The girl is now seven.

In the 60-page judgment explaining their decision, the judges - Justices Sonia Bertram Linton, Evan Brown, and Nicole Simmons - noted that the case was not about “Rastafarians being prevented from having their child attend a public institution because of dreadlocks worn out of religious observance”. Instead, the court said it was “wary of opening what may be considered the floodgates” of self-expression.

Lawrence Rose, chairman of the National Parent-Teacher Association of Jamaica’s Region Six, within whose jurisdiction Kensington Primary falls, agreed with the ruling even before the judges issued the written judgment on Monday.

“If that mother sees it that way, then other mothers would say the same thing, and then you would have chaos in schools. There must be some form of rules and regulations that our society is governed by,” he said.

“It is my opinion, not the opinion of the region or the organisation, that your religion is your religion, and we have to respect your religion. If you are doing it for look good sake, I believe no,” Rose told The Gleaner, who described himself as “old school”.

As consultation continues on the revision of the Education Act, State Minister Alando Terrelonge has blamed the oppressive views of administrators for discriminatory school policies.

AMENDING THE ACT

Terrelonge, who works at the Ministry of Education, said that the Government’s focus was now on amending the act that currently gives health or religious reasons as the only basis for the wearing of locks in public schools.

“From my discussion with the prime minister, we will move ahead to amend the Education Act so that it reflects a modern and culturally inclusive position,” said Terrelonge, a dreadlocked politician and attorney-at-law who said that he had experienced discrimination because of his hairstyle.

But Terrelonge admitted that the revision has been under way for some time but could not immediately specify how long.

“The Education Act and the regulations thereto are already being revised. There were stakeholder consultations before all of this,” he said, making reference to the highly contentious issue.

“I can’t tell you if it was last year or before last year. What I can tell you is that it has started,” he said.

Holness, who had been the de facto education minister for 16 months up to July 2020, has been criticised by People’s National Party Spokesperson on Justice Donna Scott Mottley for not heading off the impasse before it went to court.

“It was his attorney general who went to court to give Kensington Primary a right to bar a five-year-old child with locks from entering a government school,” she said.

“Now that the public response has exploded in the face of the Government, the prime minister seems to be taking cover, even though the blocking of the five-year-old was a verdict sought by his own attorney general to reinforce a policy by his own minister of education,” she added, referring to the then portfolio minister, Ruel Reid.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com