May 2022 Volume 18

School Grooming Prescription

Reprinted from Jamaica Observer
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As issues of dress and grooming continue to resurface in the public education system, two secondary school student leaders say legislation is perhaps the way to go to ensure that institutions abide by the education ministry’s policy guidelines.

However, they believe laying down the policy in law, instead of leaving it up to schools to narrow down the rules, may not go down well, given the history of how schools were formed in Jamaica, and principles grounded in tradition.

National Secondary Students’ Council region one Assistant Vice-President Dannyelle-Jordan Bailey says a regulatory framework for hairstyles for students would lead to equity in terms of how students are permitted to wear their hair.

“In an ideal situation it (legislation) would be the best way to go about implementing the policy. I can understand the whole church versus State [but], yes, put it into law. We don’t want some schools to have creative freedom while other schools are left on the back burner,” Bailey stated at last week’s Jamaica Monday Exchange where she and other students voiced their concerns and hopes for the education system, and the society as a whole.

Bailey noted the island’s high number of schools run by churches, which have their own set of rules. “So, while it is something that the students would advocate, we have a very hard time saying this is the law and this is the church,” she argued.

Kingston College Head Boy Malikai Allwood said he, too, would want to see grooming legislated, although it would be a drastic step, and a difficult one based on the historical background of schools in Jamaica, “and do we really want the Government to have total say? It’s a conversation that should be had,” he reasoned.

The question of legislating dress and grooming policy for public schools was raised by Government Senator Natalie Campbell Rodriques during a recent discussion between the leadership of the island’s church-run schools and the parliamentary joint select committee reviewing the Jamaica Teaching Council Bill.

Archbishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands Rev Howard Gregory said he did not believe all school rules must be framed in law, given the shifting nature over the decades of what is acceptable for the classroom.

“Today it’s hair, tomorrow it’s probably going to be whether you can wear slippers or shoes. So there has to be some kind of discretionary thing and a kind of relationship between the minister and the principal and teaching staff to work through certain issues as they arise. I don’t think we should legislate, given the way in which our society is structured,” he told the meeting.

At last week’s Observer Monday Exchange, Bailey pointed to the issues which arise from schools narrowing the guidelines set by the education ministry.

“The problem is, although the policy is set, schools are biased; schools are either run by churches or have their preferences as to how they want the students to look. So while the policy is set, when schools take that policy they further narrow it down. For example, you have this whole situation in Jamaica of whether or not students should be able to wear braids; the policy says it’s fine [but], perhaps you don’t want it to be coloured, you don’t want it to be extravagant, and that’s fine, but then you take it to the board level and the school says absolutely not, we don’t want braids at all,” she explained.

She said another example is afros natural afro-textured hair worn loose which the policy also allows, “but you wear your afro to school, and the schools says don’t come in”.

The Ministry of Education’s dress and grooming policy guideline says schools’ dress and grooming code must be consistent with the right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, place of origin, social class, colour, religion, or political opinion.

Its guideline on hair states that subject to exemption or modification for religious reasons, health or other permitted grounds, hair must be clean and neatly maintained.

Furthermore, according to the alternative rule set out in the 2018 policy, students should wear their hair away from the face, with the eyes and ears clearly visible; and hair that is long enough should be neatly secured in a conservative style.

It also bars fashion trend hairstyles including chemically processed, or dyed hair.

In the policy document, ministry noted that students had asked that rules be fair, and not arbitrary and dependent on the inclination of principals; nor should they be discriminatory based on ethnic origins. It said students had further asked for “neatly groomed” to be clearly defined, to prevent schools from “shifting the line in the sand at their own discretion”.

The ministry said these concerns demonstrated that schools must be mindful of both the content of rules and how they are enforced.

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