Holness says children should be treated fairly as hair controversy continues

Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness has added his voice to the growing number of online users who have spoken out following a Supreme Court ruling that a school did not breach a child’s constitutional rights by denying her access for having dreadlocks in 2018.

Prime Minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness at the virtual press briefing on May 31.

Friday’s ruling caused uproar on social media, prompting many to question what freedoms Jamaicans were celebrating as the island yesterday marked Emancipation Day – the abolition of African enslavement. Many considered the ruling discriminatory and a shot at black hair and hairstyles.

Holness, in a statement, said “While we await the written judgement to determine the basis of the ruling issued by our Supreme Court, which by media reports, have suggested that the child’s constitutional rights were not breached. This Government does not believe that there should be any law, which could be interpreted to deny access to a citizen merely on the basis of their hairstyle. We have, as a rights sensitive Government, always maintained that our children must not be discriminated against, nor deprived of their right to an education because of socio-economic issues – such [as] inability to afford the school fees, or socio-cultural issues such as their hairstyle.”

Dale and Sherine Virgo with their children (Photo: Washington Post)

He noted that the Ministry of Education has asserted over the years that schools’ grooming rules must be rights-based, and that no student is to be prevented from admission or attendance at a public educational institution by reason of non-conformity with a school rule prohibiting a particular hairstyle in circumstances where the wearing of that hairstyle by the student is based on religious or health reasons.

Holness continued, “In the present context, this Government believes it is time to review and amend the Education Act to reflect a modern and culturally inclusive position that protects our children from being barred from any educational institution on the basis of wearing locs as an ordinary hairstyle irrespective of religious reasons”.

He said he is “acutely aware of the importance of this issue, especially in an era of great social and political change that is awakening our consciousness of who we are as a people,” stressing the importance that each child is treated fairly within the nation’s educational system.