Cabinet condemns discrimination against locks-wearers, while Ministry of Education is to issue guidelines for schools’ rules

The recurring controversy was sparked earlier this week, when a child with dreadlocks was rejected on the first day of kindergarten by a private school at which she had been registered.

Following a huge public outcry, the Cabinet issued a media statement on the issue on September 7.

The Executive expressed strong condemnation of private and public schools that discriminate against Rastafarians and students who wear their natural hair in dreadlocks.

It reminded residents that the Constitution protects the freedoms of religion and association and the right to hold a belief system that differs from the majority.

Although schools’ objections to natural hairstyles on students “may be couched in language covering school deportment,” the Cabinet said, its perception is that this is “to enable discrimination against children from the Rastafarian community.”

The Executive adds that the debate about exclusion of Rastafarians from schools ended here nearly 50 years ago.  Accordingly, schools are not to discriminate against that community – or against those who wear their hair in the same manner as the Rastafarians practice. 

“If it becomes necessary, the Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda will be induced to change policy into law,” the statement says.

Meanwhile, a statement issued by the Ministry of Education and Sports, that day, said officials are finalizing a draft document for guidelines on hair that are approved by the Director of Education.

Section 49 of The Education Act, 2008, vests the Director with the authority to “introduce rules to govern the attire, conduct and discipline of students,” while Section 17 (e) stipulates the student’s responsibility to observe those standards.

The Ministry’s policy suggests that school rules … should not discriminate against students based on the natural texture, length or colour of their hair.

The policy also says that a student’s hair should be clean: that is, free of foul odour and/or contagions, neat, well-groomed and orderly presented. Further, it should not pose a health and/or safety risk to self or others and be a distraction to the general school population.