Fri | Sep 22, 2023

Lawyer pushes back against hair rights appeal

Published:Friday | October 15, 2021 | 12:10 AMTanesha Mundle/Staff Reporter
Sherine Virgo and her husband Dale Virgo outside the Supreme Court in Kingston.
Sherine Virgo and her husband Dale Virgo outside the Supreme Court in Kingston.

While asking the justices to throw out the appeal against the Full Court’s ruling, a government lawyer argued on Thursday that the dreadlocked student at Kensington Primary had no guaranteed right to attend the school.

The Full Court had ruled in July 2020 that the student’s constitutional right had not been breached by administrators when they ordered that her locks be cut in order for her to attend the school.

The school’s grooming policy barred the wearing of locks, braids, and beads, but there was an exception for locks on religious grounds.

The child, referred to only as ZV, and her father, Dale Virgo, had filed a claim against the school, the education ministry, and the attorney general. The respondents claimed that their constitutional rights had been breached by the school’s policy.

The claimant contended that ZV’s rights to freedom of expression, freedom of religion, respect for and protection of private life and privacy of the home, as well as her right to publicly funded tuition in a public educational institution at the pre-primary and primary level had been contravened. The family also cited the right to equitable and humane treatment.

They also argued that her father’s right to respect for, and protection of, private life and privacy of the home was also encroached upon.

But director of state proceedings, attorney-at-law Althea Jarrett, QC, has maintained that none of ZV’s constitutional rights had been breached. She argued on Thursday that there was no right that guarantees the child a place at Kensington Primary.

Jarrett posited that educational rights did not give a child automatic right to a particular school. She further argued that the school was justified in implementing its policy against locks, braids, and beads.

According to the appellant’s lead attorney, the school had asked the child to cut her hair, claiming that locks were vulnerable to lice and ‘junjo’ infestation.

But Jarrett, citing the principal’s affidavit, said that the school has had to implement a number of measures over the years to deal with hair hygiene.

Principal Christine Hamilton, in her affidavit, noted that the school had an outbreak of lice, and in other instances, teachers had to wash students’ hair. She said there was another instance in which a child had pushed another student from a bench because of the stench.

Jarrett further told the court that the school had offered to accept ZV when they learnt that she was wearing her locks because of her Nazarene beliefs but her parents decided to press ahead with the claim.

Counsel for the appellates, Michael Hylton, QC, said on Thursday that the Full Court had erred in finding that the school policy had not breached ZV’s and her father’s constitutional rights and asked that the Court of Appeal overrule the finding.

Attorney-at-law Kayann Parks, representing the intervener, the Office of the Children’s Advocate, supported the argument that ZV’s rights to freedom of expression and religion had been breached.

Meanwhile, appeal court President Patrick Brooks, after reserving judgment on Thursday, sought to temper expectations of a quick delivery of a decision.

Attorneys-at-law Daynia Allen and Isat Buchanan also represented the appellants, while Jeavaughnia Clarke also appeared for the respondents.