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Student told fix hair or stay home

The student who was not accepted because of her braids

September 14, 1999

A 15-Year-Old Student(picture above) said yesterday she felt offended and threatened after her principal told her she would have to fix her braided hair if she wanted to attend school.

The Fourth Form student, Clivia Jones, claimed that on Friday, Sister Petronella Joseph, principal of Corpus Christi College, Diego Martin, advised her she should take the braids out of her hair by yesterday or she would not be able to come back to the school.

Jones said she had been forewarned by other students and her class teachers last Wednesday and Thursday about her braided hairstyle. Additionally, Jones said she was informed that the college would not be accepting children whose hair was either in corn rows or plaits. " I was shocked," Jones said, adding: " My hair always has been worn like this. I have always felt proud of my natural self. Now I feel offended and threatened."

The braided Jones, her mother, Vella, and aunt, Meri Ranut, visited the Guardian's office early yesterday morning to voice their concerns over the matter, which the mother has described as "discrimination." The child's mother criticised the situation bitterly, saying, she brought up her kids to "appreciate themselves."

"My daughter never had to use chemicals in her hair," the mother said, adding: "In order to keep it (hair) in control, you need to plait it in." The mother then questioned: "Should my daughter be denied an education because she is natural?"

Jones, of Charford Courts, Charlotte Street, was accepted at the school from Belmont Junior Secondary, after writing the 14-Plus Examinations in June.

When the Guardian contacted Joseph, the principal said the problem was "resolved" and that the family had "jumped to conclusions." Joseph said on Friday the child's hair was braided, but it "was up in the air."

The school principal remarked that the school held a meeting during the holidays, and that all parents were told that there should be "appropriate" hairstyles. "We told them to make sure it (hair) is neat and that the hair does not hang. The child's hair was different on Friday than it was (yesterday)," said Joseph.

By Wendy Campbell

No haircut, but
Brendon Allowed in Class

Tuesday September 14, 1999

BRENDON LESSEY, the Common Entrance graduate who was put out of secondary school on his first day because school administrators said his hair was too long, was allowed back in yesterday.

But the 12-year -old, whose hair is plaited in cane row, had to endure teasing from his new classmates because his story was carried in Newsday, as his mother made efforts to have the situation resolved quickly.

Lessey was banned from school after being told that his hair would contribute to indiscipline and encourage others to follow his lead.

However, his mother pointed out that he had never had a haircut and was a respectful, disciplined youth.

Ministry of Education officials expressed astonishment after being advised of the situation and pointed out that the school did not have the right to prevent the boy from attending classes for that reason.

Lessey's parents met with the School Supervisor for San Fernando last Thursday and following dialogue with the school authorities, Brendon was allowed to go to school.

Hair about Intimidation

September 15, 1999

Vella Jones, mother of Clivia Jones, wrote an appropriate hair raising article to the Guardian Newspapers.

As a parent, I am very concerned about the intimidation my child has and is going to experience because she choose to stand up for her rights. The issue cannot be resolved, until truth is brought to it.

The principal claimed the issue was resolved, but lied on print concerning the way the child’s hair was worn, claiming it to have been “up in the air” and braided differently Friday.

There was no mention by the principal of her categorically telling my child to unplait her hair by Monday or she would not be able to attend school. How is my child not to feel? Intimidated, after the principal who is supposed to be the pillar of high principles, lies publicly and making my daughter out to be a liar.

The reality that my child was discriminated against by the principal, the dean and the school law is the issue I intend to bring to the forefront, because braiding or plaiting is not considered appropriate by the schools standards.

Rule #8 “Hairstyles must always be appropriate for school simple and neat. The only hair accessories allowed are woggies. These must be black or white not black and white. Bleached tainted or braided hair will not be permitted”.

I was asked by the schools administrators “what I hope to achieve from coming forth with this issue via the media?”

My reply is I have issues with any law that restricts and discriminates against one’s fundamental right to choice. This right is not being afforded, when laws are put in place that denies one who chooses to wear their hair natural. This issue would resolved be resolved when this rule that infringes on one’s right is eliminated completely from the school’s categorization of Inappropriate Hair- wear.

Hair how to dress for success

Dress for success
(Left) The student with her braids and her mother
(Right) an Indian student dressed for their idea of success

September 19,1999.

SUNDAY GUARDIAN reporter GILLIAN CALLISTE interviews officials of several secondary schools to find out their views on how students should dress.

From restrictions about hair to nails, the dress code is in full effect the nation’s schools. Strict rules instill discipline in students some say. But others argue that a number of schools are practising downright discrimination.

Activist A. H. Hotep insist that, at the turn of the Millennium students in the country still suffer racial discrimination at the hands of school authorities.

Last week’s incident involving students Clivia Jones and Brendon Lessey who were reportedly sent home because of their corn-row hairstyles are examples of social and racial discrimination, he charges.

Lessey is a form 1 student at Pleasantville Junior Secondary. Jones was admitted to Form 4 Corpus Christi Collage in Diego Martin at the beginning of the September term. Her mother turned to Hotep after Jones was allegedly threatened by her school principal. “It is not the first time I am hearing that especially with that school Corpus Christi College,” Hotep said on Friday. “Now the Dean and Principal are ridiculing the child in front of the school. She said that they stuck up the media report for the school to see.”

“This is social and racial discrimination since these kinds of schools are now getting subsistence from the government and the Government has a say in placing students, these principals are objecting to the junior secondary students. They have problems if the students do not conform to pseudo-European hairstyles,” he said.

This kind of thing should have been dealt with in the 1970’s,” added Hotep who rums the Self-Empowerment Learning Fraternity, a comprehensive library on various cultures and history.

A random survey of the country’s secondary school last week revealed strict rules regarding hairstyles and uniform. Most school officials claimed they had no stipulations against the African-oriented corn rows, but simply prescribed simple, tidy hairstyles. They outlaw hair dye and outrageously coloured hair accessories, especially those that do not match the school uniform.

But be prepared to shed your locks if you have your eyes set on a secondary education at ST Mary’s College. Principal, Fr. Anton Dick, says there’s no compromise when it comes to his school’s uniform.

Short, neat trims, “that any gentleman going to an office would have,” are all the Saint boys can sport as far as hairstyles go Dick has ruled. The tough-talking Dick was unrelenting even when it came to the dreadlocks of Rastafarians which they consider sacred. “We’ve never had that ( Rastafarians ) as far as I know, and we prefer not to have that type of hairstyle. We just want our students to be suitable attired for school,” Dick said in a telephone interview. He added that if a student with a “ras” did pass for his school, the school would “deal” with the situation using “gentle suasion”.

Fr. Dick, head of a school with an impressive history, admitted that he did not see a relationship between hairstyle and behaviour. Still, he remains adamant that some hairdos were just not appropriate for attending classes. At Belmont Boys Secondary too, school authorities are stern about school uniform. But concessions are made when it comes to hairstyles associated with religion, one teacher reported.

“We don’t tolerate that nappy head twisting of the hair. But right now we have two students who are rastas. A while back there were two brothers with high afros their father said it was for religious reasons, and were accepted that,” he said.

Teachers at the school were most quite so lenient though, when two students showed up to sit their CXC exams in April with “appendages to the uniform,” he said.

“One boy came in white shoes instead of black and another had all sorts of paintings on his shirt. We sent then right home to change,” the teacher recalled.

As long as hairstyles were not “way-out” at the privately-run Southern Academy of SDA school, students should have no problems. “We simply state that hairstyles must be modest - not way out. We emphasise not wearing anything distracting,” the principal said.

At St. Augustine Girls High School ( SAGHS ), apart from being neat and clean, hair must be pinned up or placed in a pony tail id it “touches the collar.”

Principal Kathleen Anderson says she insists on a “very strict Dress code,” but she had no problems with corn rows.

And even if her girls have grouse with school rules or any other school issue, the school’s open-door policy ensured that their complaints were heard, she added.

“We also have a suggestion box, but the girls prefer to come in and talk,” Anderson said.

Naparima Girls College Acting Principal Patricia Ramgoolam also saw nothing outrageous about her school’s rules.

“There’s nothing in the rules that we have not discussed with the student body. And the parents are aware of the rules. We impress upon then the need for order, but it’s mostly a democratic process,” she said. One former naps student did agree that even the school’s rule on short fingernails helped keep the students in check.

“Looking from over your palms, if you could get into trouble,” she said. “Even your watch had to be conservative. Hair always had to be tied back and worn up, and you couldn’t have hair colour. You could get sent home for that. Although many students did complain, at the end of the day they had to conform. It was a good form of discipline.” Rules on hairstyle at Bishop’s High in Tobago, are simple - “elaborate hairstyles will not be permitted; hair must be neatly and simply combed, generally tied back from the face and shoulder length braids (hair extensions) must be of natural hair colour.”

President to the Trinidad and Tobago Teacher’s Association ( TTUTA ), Trevor Oliver, stressed that in any misunderstanding between principals and students involving school uniform, the child’s education must be the most important consideration.

“Any issue involving hairstyles and the like should be speedily resolved so students don’t stay away from school for a prolonged period,” he said in an interview.

“We want to make it clear, however, that we don’t want to tell principals how to run schools, but educators have to consider a number of cultural issues - that these are changing times and that, on the matter of hairstyles, people have to tread carefully.”

Pointing out that attitudes towards Rastafarian hairstyles, which were not allowed in many schools in the past, have changed somewhat, he insisted that such hairstyles were “legitimate in terms of the Constitution.” “I believe that the majority of schools would respect cultural practices that are guaranteed under the Constitution. Principals ought to be guided by the Constitution,” Oliver said.

Oliver added that as long as hairstyles were clean and tidy and posed no threat to health. Students’ education should not be made to “suffer” over the issue.

On Thursday, Principal of Pleasantville Junior Secondary denied that 12-year-old Lessey was shown the school gates, far less because of his hair. “We never put him out of school. We never told him he couldn’t come to school. The child has problems with nose bleed and we asked the mother for a medical,” she said.

She added that the school could not force a child to cut his hair because it was his constitutional right and that Rastafarians were allowed at the school.

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