A seven-year-old female student was barred from attending a primary school in Jamaica, allegedly because she wore dreadlocks.
The decision, which was upheld by the nation’s highest court, set off a firestorm of debate on the Caribbean island and in the diaspora, although the written judgement of the court was unavailable up to press time. It also prompted response from political leaders, including Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness, and calls for a review of the nation’s laws.
On July 31, the Supreme Court ruled the constitutional rights of the girl were not breached in 2018 when she was denied access to the Kensington Primary School because of her dreadlocked hair. The ruling ended a two-year fight that began when local human rights watchdog Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), on behalf of the girl’s parents,obtained an order preventing the board of management from blocking the girl’s admission.
JFJ challenged the school’s position on the basis that enforcement of the rule would violate the constitutionally protected human rights of the child and her family and that no other remedy existed to prevent the threat of that violation, given the school’s demand.
The girl and her parents, Dale and Sherine Virgo, who both wear dreadlocks, planned to appeal the court’s ruling, according to their lawyer Isat Buchanan.
“I will not be cutting my daughter’s hair,” Sherine Virgo said after the ruling. “If they give me that ultimatum again, I will be moving her.”
The court’s decision sparked widespread debate, including an online petition calling for a change in the high court’s ruling. Holness chimed in, saying he was concerned around the developments surrounding the case.
“While we await the written judgement to determine the basis of the ruling issued by our Supreme Court, which by media reports, have suggested that the child’s constitutional rights were not breached,” Holness said,“this government does not believe that there should be any law, which could be interpreted to deny access to a citizen merely on the basis of their hairstyle.”