Jamaica’s high court said that Kensington Primary School was well within its rights to require a 5-year-old to cut off her dreadlocks before attending classes. It has led to a widespread debate on the issue.
Kensington Primary told Sherine and Dale Virgo that their daughter would have to cut her hair for hygiene reasons. The school, which is located just outside of Kingston, has rules that explicitly ban dreadlocks. The Ministry of Education also issued guidelines that state all hairstyles must be “neat.”
Many said that the school was being discriminatory against natural hair, but the high court did not agree. People were shocked by the court’s decision, especially because dreadlocks are a strong symbol in Rastafarian culture which is common on the island.
A group called Jamaicans for Justice, who supported the family throughout the trial, said that the girl’s freedoms and access to education were being denied by the school.
“I will not be cutting my daughter’s hair,” Sherine Virgo. “If they give me that ultimatum again, I will be moving her.”
The school and the Virgo family have been fighting this battle for the past two years. Sherine and Dale Virgo’s daughter, now 7, had still attended school because an injunction was filed against the Ministry of Education while the trial was ongoing.
The current minister of education, Karl Samuda, has declined to comment. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, she had been home-schooled for the past few months.
“It is a most unfortunate day for black people and for Rastafarian people in Jamaica,” said the family lawyer, Isat Buchana. “This is an opportunity the Jamaican government and the legal system had to right these wrongs and lead the world and make a change,” Dale Virgo said. “But they have decided to keep the same system.”