NEGRIL, Westmoreland — The draft of a dress and grooming policy for schools, which would remove the need for male Rastafarian students to cover their locks, is to be published within a few weeks.
Education Minister Fayval Williams, who made the announcement on Wednesday, said educators’ feedback would be sought on the draft ahead of implementation. Their views will also be sought on proposed changes to how devotions are conducted in schools and on the draft of a national school nutrition policy.
“There have been a few times that I’ve gone to schools and I see students — maybe not more than one or two in a particular school — boys wearing tams to school to cover their locks. This is 2023; we really, really should not be doing that anymore. We need to respect other people’s religion,” Williams said in explaining the rationale behind that aspect of the grooming policy.
“We are putting [the draft] out into the education sector. We want you to read it. We want you to look at it in your context. We want you to understand the framework within which the dress and grooming policy will operate. We want you to try it in our schools and give us your feedback. That’s why it’s in draft form. We could have moved to make it final but we wanted to hear from you. It’s going to take longer for us to get to that final stage, but your input is important because you may say to us this policy sounds good on paper but in implementation, here are some of the issues. We will listen,” she added.
She was speaking during the Jamaica Teachers’ Association’s annual conference.
“Yes, we need to say to our students you have to ensure that your hair is clean and so forth. But come on, you shouldn’t have to cover your hair unless that’s what your religion calls for,” she added.
In a swift response, Rastafarian advocate Ras Iyah V welcomed the move as a “step in the right direction”.
Grooming has been a hot-button topic for years, and it remains to be seen whether the proposal will be embraced by the country’s teachers. While some schools have relaxed their rules in recent years, others have adamantly stuck to tradition.
The proposed changes to be made to how devotions are conducted are also expected to spark some debate.
“The guidelines for devotions in schools are designed for upholding civility and teaching the core values which are milestones in the captivating of the nation. Therefore, the aim of these guidelines is to create an environment where devotions contribute effectively to the holistic development of the student,” Williams said on Wednesday.
“There are going to be some rules and guidelines. There are going to be some things that will not be permitted,” she added, without providing details.
Her comments come in the wake of last October’s bizarre incident involving Oberlin High School students in west rural St Andrew.
Scores of them began acting abnormally during morning devotion, with many of them fainting.
“We want to ensure that we don’t experience again what we experienced in one of our schools,” Williams said on Wednesday.
Like the draft policies related to grooming and religion in schools, the one on national school nutrition and standards will also be circulated to stakeholders within the education sector for feedback ahead of ratification.
According to Williams, the policy was developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Wellness. The goal is to provide guidelines for school administrators to follow in order to ensure that students are provided with healthy and nutritious meals, “along with a holistic wellness programme that involve both nutrition and physical activity”.
“Again, even though we’ve gone through the rounds of consultations with different stakeholder groups, before we finalise we want to hear from you,” the education minister told the gathering of educators from across the country.
“We want to hear from you as to what will work, what can be implemented. We want your input into this,” she urged.