Holness Concerned about Child with Dreadlocks being Barred from School

The Virgo family poses for a portrait in 2019. (Diallo Dixon)

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Prime Minister Andrew Holness has voiced concern about developments surrounding a case in which a seven-year-old girl was barred from attending a primary school in the central parish of St Catherine because of her dreadlocks.

In a statement on Saturday, he said his administration has 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.”

“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.”

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.

According to Holness, 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”.

Holness stressed that he is committed to ensuring that every child is treated fairly within Jamaica’s education system and reiterated that his Government stands firmly against discrimination against any student on any basis.

On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional rights of the little girl, were not breached in 2018 when she was denied access to the Kensington Primary School in the parish, because of her dreadlocked hair.

Friday’s ruling ends a two-year fight that began when local human rights watchdog, Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) – on behalf of the girl’s parents – obtained an order preventing the board of management from blocking the girl’s admission.

The human-rights group challenged the school’s position on the basis that enforcement of the rule would violate constitutionally protected human rights of the child and her family and that no other remedy existed to prevent the threat of that violation, given the school’s demand.

The girl and her parents, Dale and Sherine Virgo, who both wear dreadlocks, plan to appeal, said their lawyer, Isat Buchanan.

“I will not be cutting my daughter’s hair,” Sherine Virgo said immediately after the ruling. “If they give me that ultimatum again, I will be moving her.”

Virgo’s daughter — now 7 years old and identified in court papers only as Z because she is a minor — was attending classes at the school after the courts delivered an injunction against the Ministry of Education, allowing her to go to school with her dreadlocks intact.

When the school closed this spring because of the pandemic, the girl was home-schooled.

CMC

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