Sat | Oct 16, 2021

School offered to admit dreadlocked girl but parents wanted court action – Lawyer

Published:Thursday | October 14, 2021 | 3:07 PM
The Court of Appeal is hearing a claim brought by the child and her father. They are insisting that her constitutional rights were breached by the school, which the institution denies.

The lawyer representing the respondents in the Kensington Primary School dreadlocks case today argued that efforts were made to accommodate the child, however, her parents decided to go to court.

Director of State Proceedings, attorney-at-law Althea Jarrett QC, who is representing the school, the Ministry of Education and the Attorney General, argued that despite its no dreadlocks, braids and beads policy, Kensington had offered to accept the dreadlocked girl after being made aware that her hairstyle was a part of her Nazarene belief but her parents had insisted on suing the school and the Government. 

The appeal has been brought by the student, named only as ZV, and her father Dale Virgo. 

They are appealing the Full Courts ruling last year in which it found that the school had not breached the child's constitutional rights. 

Virgo had filed the claim contending that both he and his daughter's constitutional rights had been breached as a result of the school's threat to withdraw its acceptance if the child's hair was not cut. 

According to the child's mother, Sherine, in her affidavit, she had signed a contract with the school for the then five-year-old to be admitted, but the school, after seeing the child with the dreadlocks, gave them an ultimatum. 

Lead lawyer for the appellants, Michael Hylton, yesterday admitted during his submission that when the issue first arose Sherine had not informed school officials that the child was wearing the locks for religious reasons.

However, he said the school was later informed and nothing was done. 

But, in her submission this morning, Jarrett argued that Hylton had been misinformed. 

“When the school became aware that the locking of ZV's hair was done on the basis of a religion, they were not going to be going beyond that to say prove to me what religion this is, they were accepting that it would now fall within the exception to the rule before she was free to attend the school,” she said. 

“This was not enough for the appellants and the matter proceeded to court despite representation from the school and other interested parties,” she added. 

The appellants had asked the Supreme Court to find that ZV's right to freedom of expression and right to religion, among other rights, were breached. 

But the Jarrett argued that the court was right to find that ZV's right to freedom of religion was not breached as the court had not found that the family's Nazarene belief was a religion, as there was not enough evidence before it to support that. 

Similarly, she said there was no evidence before the court to show how ZV's right to respect of the family and private life was breached,  as there was no evidence as to how the school rule had impacted her. 

“And in fact, we make the point that in Mr Virgo's own evidence it is really very clear that his children really have no choice in the matter,” she noted. 

- Tanesha Mundle

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