Jamaica’s Supreme Court upheld a decision of a Kingston school to demand a 5-year-old student cut her dreadlocks to attend classes. The ruling stated that Kensington Primary School did not breach the child’s constitutional rights when it denied her entry in 2018 for having dreadlocks.
The ruling sent shockwaves across the country.
Rastafarians, who wear dreadlocks as a culture and religion, account for two percent of Jamaica’s population and have long been ostracized from Jamaican society. The culture is often reduced to demeaning caricatures, mirroring stereotypes evocative of America’s blackface personas. The Constitutional Courts of Jamaica did not formally recognize the religion until 2003.
The panel of three judges, Justices Sonia Bertram-Linton, Evan Brown and Nicole Simmons, believe that it may be time for the courts to step in and set more stringent guidelines where it pertains to dress codes on public school.
“Perhaps the time has come for the legislature to remove this matter from the discretion of individual entities and give it the force of law,” the judges wrote. “How far that is to be taken is a decision that must be taken by the policymakers.”
Despite the judgment, the child’s mother, Sherine Virgo, said she would not cut her now-7-year-old daughter’s hair.
“I will not be cutting her hair! That was never an option on the table. As it is right now, it seems that everything is going the homeschool direction anyways,” Virgo told The Jamaican Gleaner following the Supreme Court ruling.
Human rights group Jamaicans for Justice have also condemned the decision, calling for a review of Jamaica’s Education Act and the Education Regulations.
“No child should be denied or threatened with denial of an education because they wear locks,” the group said. “Many children and families across Jamaica have been negatively impacted by this and other unjust rules that police children’s appearance in ways that are unreasonable and discriminatory. In many instances, these rules are simply school administrators’ prejudices’ dressed up’ and formalised.”
The statement continues: “We call for a national re-thinking of these restrictions and the values that inform them. We envision a society in which a child’s legal right to access education is not secondary to the personal grooming preferences of school administrators.”
On Aug. 4, the minister of education, Karl Samuda, announced that a review of the Grooming Policy of 2018 is currently underway.