The policy of the St. Mary’s Roman Catholic primary school requiring students with dreadlocks to cover them is discriminatory and should be abolished, the attorney general has said.
Jaundy Martin further said that the policy is contrary to the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Education Act.
“….the school should readmit the student not only because she suffers from a skin condition that prohibits her from covering her hair but also because it is unconscionable to disallow a child an education based on their religion or how they wear their hair,” the ministry of education quoted the attorney general as saying in a legal opinion on the matter.
The ministry further cited the Education Act as saying, “Subject to available resources and to this act, all persons in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are entitled to receive an education appropriate to their needs”.
The Ministry of Education had asked Martin to provide an opinion on the issue after a recent development in which a student at the school had to stay out of the school for three weeks because of issues relating to her hairstyle.
The mother of the 6-year-old girl, a grade 1 student at the school, told iWitness News that she was aware of the policy when the child enrolled at the school.
She, however, said she locked up the child’s hair because constant combing of her hair was aggravating the skin condition.
When the child returned to school last January, she wore a hat from the bus terminal to the school, by which time the heat had begun to aggravate her eczema.
The school said that the child would not be allowed in the classroom unless she cover her hair or cut her dreadlocks.
The mother has maintained that while both she and the child wears dreadlocks they are not Rastafarian.
The child was later readmitted to the classroom after the school received a medical certificate saying she could not cover her hair because of eczema, and amidst plans for a lawsuit, iWitness News understands.
In a Feb. 15 memo to principals and education institutions, the Ministry of Education said that the attorney general had provided the opinion at its request.
Without naming the school, the ministry noted that the incident related “to a student carrying uncovered dreadlocks hairstyle being prohibited from attending school until there was compliance with the institution’s rules”
The ministry said that
Martin, in his submission, referred to section 27 of the Education Act on
The section said that a person who is eligible for admission to an educational institution or school as a student shall not be refused on any discriminatory ground relating to that student or a parent of that student.
The law further states that a person who or a body which refuses to admit any student to an educational institution or a school, or expels any student from an educational institution or a school on any discrimination ground relating to the student or a parent of the student commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of EC$2,000.
The law explains that “discrimination ground” means a ground based on religion, race, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed, social status, physical handicap and in the case of mixed gender schools, sex.
The ministry said that the view of the Attorney General in the particular case was that the policy of the school placed a great deal of discrimination on Rastafarian children and this should be abolished for future purposes.
In essence, no child should be deprived of an education on the basis of religion or their appearance,” the ministry said.
The ministry stated:
“Being cognisant of the written opinion of the Honourable Attorney General, the Ministry would like to communicate unambiguously that any action against a student that can be construed as discriminatory in the context of the case under reference will not be supported by the Ministry of Education. The Ministry acknowledges your commitment and contribution to the development of our nation and anticipates continued collaboration in this regard.”