EDUCATION Minister Fayval Williams has declared that she has told principals repeatedly not to prevent children from entering schools when they fail to wear the correct uniforms.
There have been numerous occasions when administrators have prevented students from entering school compounds because the girls’ skirts are too short, the boys’ pants are too tight, or they are not wearing the approved hair styles.
But speaking to the Jamaica Observer on the margins of a post-Cabinet media briefing at Jamaica House on Wednesday, Williams said this should not be done.
“I have said it repeatedly, and now we will put it in writing, we will quote the law, we will do that,” declared Williams with support from the acting Chief Education Officer Dr Kasan Troupe.
Williams had earlier used the media briefing to outline the ministry’s position on the long-running controversy surrounding school uniforms.
“Schools are not allowed to lock out students regardless of whether it is uniform or something else. There are too many risks associated with that. Once a student steps on the school compound we act in the place of parents and I have consistently said that there should not be any locking out whatsoever of our students,” underscored the education minister.
According to Williams, before the start of this school year, consultations were held regarding dress and grooming in schools because she knew it would be a very important topic when face-to-face classes resumed.
“The policy of [the education ministry] is an overarching one. It does not prescribe the details for our schools. The policy says to all our schools that…their local policy…should be arrived at through a consultative process with all the stakeholders, meaning parents, teachers, students, and other stakeholders.
“The policy should not be discriminatory [and] should recognise the cultural differences, religious differences, but it must be applied fairly across all students,” said Williams.
She noted that, with those broad outlines, the administrators at the schools must make the final decision as her ministry has no intention of prescribing the length of a girl’s uniform or the size of a boy’s pants.
“We leave those decisions to our boards in our schools, and each of our schools has a board comprising a parent rep [representative], a student rep…we have principals, sometimes vice-principals at our schools, and we believe that the decisions about uniforms is best taken at the school level,” added Williams.
The education minister pointed out that uniforms have been a staple in Jamaica’s schools for years and noted that schools take great pride in designing and agreeing on the uniforms to be worn by their students.
She argued that schools usually make it clear what the uniforms should be and urged parents who object to the uniforms to advocate peacefully for changes.
“My position, and our position as a ministry, is that we will continue to stand on the side of discipline, of law and order. We believe our schools are the ideal place to teach our students to obey rules, beginning with the school rules,” declared Williams, who had previously warned that administrators barring students from entering school due to policy breaches was in contravention of Article 28 of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child as well as the 2004 Child Care and Protection Act.