Discriminatory, unconscionable policy against Rastafarians at schools should be abolished – AG
The policy of a local primary school that requires Rastafarians to cover their hair is discriminatory, unconscionable and should be abolished.
This is the view of the Ministry of Education, National Reconciliation and Information, which was communicated to principals of schools and other educational institutions in a memo dated February 15, 2019.
“The view of the Honourable Attorney General in this 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 memo said.
The Ministry’s official position is being communicated to schools following an incident earlier this year when a six-year-old pupil of the St Mary’s Roman Catholic School was told she could not attend school unless her dreadlocks were cut or covered.
After being out of school for three weeks, the grade one pupil was finally readmitted, but no change had apparently been made to the school rules. Her return was apparently prompted by the delivery to the school of a lawyer’s letter which threatened legal action.
The Ministry, in its memo said it had sought the opinion of the Attorney General, who provided some insight that informed the Ministry’s position on such matters.
The Attorney General in his submission referred to section 27 of the Education Act on discrimination, which among other things said: “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 to a fine of two thousand dollars ($2,000.00).”
In this section, “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.
According to the memo, the legal opinion given by the Attorney General expressed that “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”.
“Being cognizant 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,” the memo, signed by acting permanent secretary Myccle Burke said.