The mother of a dreadlocked 6-year-old girl attending a government-assisted Catholic school has been told that she must prove that the child cannot cover her hair because of health reasons.
Otherwise, the child will have to cover or cut her dreadlocks, or continue her education elsewhere.
The case illustrates a years-old phenomenon in which many persons outside of the Rastafarian faith — including members of other religions, including Christians — are choosing to wear dreadlocks for fashion or cultural reasons.
The mother spoke to iWitness News Wednesday night, but asked that she or her daughter not be identified.
She said that her daughter, who is in Grade 1 at the St. Mary’s Roman Catholic School in Kingstown, enrolled there in September 2017.
The mother said that when the girl enrolled at the school she did not have dreadlocks, but was dealing with severe eczema.
The child’s skin condition was flaring up as a result of the frequent combing of her hair, resulting in boils and redness to the scalp.
“So me trying to find a way to deal with her eczema, not combing her hair, not irritating it, I decided to let her wear dreadlocks because I could basically do her hair once a week and I can leave it like that and I wouldn’t have to comb it and pull it.”
The mother said that later in kindergarten she locked up the child’s hair and she went through the rest of the school year like that.
“The way her hair was done, it didn’t really look like typical dreadlock. It was always neatly combed and I don’t think they noticed it was dreadlocks.”
The mother said that when her daughter was in Grade 1, there was a meeting at the school in which it was mentioned that children who are Rastafarian are supposed to have their hair covered while at school.
“I felt that it was directed to me so I went to the principal and I said I heard this in a meeting. And though all my kids not Rastafarian I did this for health reasons to control her eczema and the principal said, ‘Well, I didn’t even realize it was dreadlocks she has, but she would have to cover her hair.’”
The mother told iWitness News that the principal told her that the school rules to which she signed agreement when she registered the child said that Rastafarians are supposed to cover their hair.
“I explained to her that I know what Rastafarian is, I, myself, I am not Rastafarian, my daughter is not Rastafarian, she wears dreadlocks.”
The mother said that she tried to abide by the school rules and gave her daughter a hat to wear to school.
“And as soon as she put it on, it started getting hot, she started itching. I explained this to the principal and she basically gave me until this January for her to cover her hair.”
The mother said that this past Monday, when the new school term began, she took her daughter to school with her hair covered.
“Just walking from Tokyo going to school, she started itching, the back of her head started flaring up. I took off the hat.
“The principal saw me that morning taking her to class and she approached me and I explained to her that here is the hat, I tried to let her wear it, she is itching and she is not able to wear it throughout the day.
“It was starting to turn into an argument where she is telling me you sneaked her locks into the school and it is not because of any eczema that you covered her hair.
“At the end of it, her options were she either wears the hat or she has to take them out. Wear the hat or cut them,” the mother said.
The mother said she was not going to leave her daughter in school with her hair covered, knowing that it would affect her eczema.
“So, I left with her on Monday.”
She said she met with one of the priests who said he doesn’t understand why the mother doesn’t just cut the child’s hair because it is the school policy and everyone has to be uniform.
She said the priest further told her that if the school makes an exception for the student they have to make one for everyone else.
The mother said there was another meeting on Wednesday and the management of the school asked her to bring a note from the doctor explaining why she is unable to cover her hair.
“So she has not been in school since Monday. She went to school this morning for her report and that was it. She is not able to go to school until she has a letter from the doctor.”
She mother said she was aware when she registered the school that there was a policy on Rastafarians.
“I am not Rastafarian. Rastafarianism is a whole different religion. It is not even something I know enough about but I do have dreadlocks,” the mother said.
“It is not a religious thing. It is just my natural hair and I choose not to put weaves and chemical in it. I just prefer to be as natural as possible and grow my natural hair like that.”
The mother said that there is a female student at the school, who is apparently Hindi, who is allowed to wear a red dot in the middle of her forehead.
“And that’s allowed in the school.”
The mother said that she went to the Ministry of Education, which advised her to attend the meeting with the school and see what agreement they can come to.
“First of all, it was a health issue, but now, my daughter is proud and loves the fact that she wears her natural hair and the way it would affect her if I have to cut her hair off as a little girl who loves her hair, who loves her locks, and it has become part of her identify now.
“What would it do to her if I am to cut her hair now because she has to go to school, because the principal wants her to ; not because she wants to or I want to or because I think it is best for her.”
Regarding the view that she can just send her daughter to a different school, the mother said, “If she is not allowed to [attend school without covering her hair], and I have to [transfer her], I have no choice, but, first of all, it would not be easy to get her into another school, to move her when she is already settled with her friends.
“She is not a health risk. She is not a risk to any of the other children, so why do I have to send her to another school? She has done absolutely nothing, so what reason I have to send her to another school?”
The mother says that whenever her daughter goes to school, her hair is always in a bun or ponytail and is styled neatly “in a way that even the principal said to me I didn’t even know it was dreadlocks”.
The mother said that she met with a different priest on Wednesday who told her that he was surprised at the child’s hair because when he heard of dreadlocks, the child’s hairstyle was not what he had expected.