Antigua’s Department of Education said the law would be amended to accommodate children who wear padlocks in schools if it becomes necessary, based on a Cabinet agreement on Wednesday, as it strongly condemns discrimination against Rastafarians and other students wearing the headdress.
In the meantime, the Ministry of Education said it was working on a draft document on the issue.
In a statement released after their all-member meeting, which came two days after a five-year-old child with locks was turned away from New Bethel Seventh-day Adventist Academy when the new year school began on Monday, the Cabinet stressed that the Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda protects freedom of religion, freedom of association and the freedom to hold a belief system different from that of the majority.
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“Cabinet noted that objection to natural hairstyles on pupils’ heads may be framed in language covering academic conduct; however, the purpose, as conceived by the Cabinet, is to enable discrimination against children of the Rastafarian community,” he charged.
“This debate over the exclusion of Rastafarians from schools ended in Antigua and Barbuda almost 50 years ago. Schools should not discriminate against members of the Rastafarian community or those who choose to wear the same way as the Rastafarian practice. This is the policy as stated by the government.
“If it becomes necessary, the Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda will have to turn the policy into law,” he added.
In a separate statement also issued on Wednesday, the Ministry of Education and Sports said it was aware of the debate over hairstyles in schools and that officials were finalizing a draft document on the subject.
He noted that while section 49 of the Education Act 2008 allows public schools to “introduce rules governing the dress, conduct and discipline of pupils” so long as those rules have been approved by the principal of Education, the policy governing school rules regarding hair “should not discriminate against students based on the natural texture, length, or color of their hair.”
The department said what is important is that the hair is clean, neat, neatly groomed and presented in an orderly manner, and does not pose a health and/or safety risk to oneself. or for others, nor are they a distraction for the general school population.
“It must be said that the Ministry of Education and Sports condemns all forms of discrimination, especially when directed against students in Antigua and Barbuda,” he added.
The case that sparked the comments was based on the school’s policy against wearing padlocks.
According to media reports, the child had already been accepted to school, but during orientation, the principal took his mother aside and informed her that the child could not go to school with padlock. The mother was reportedly told that the girl’s hair would have to be cut if she wanted to return.