Letters & Opinion

Dealing with SMC’s Haircut Policy Saga

By Reginald Andrew

In the midst of the controversy involving a student of the St Mary’s College (SMC) about ‘hair grooming’ requirements-  the ministry of education stated that “they are aware of the situation at various schools” and remains committed “to reviewing the present position…to addressing the current issues from a holistic standpoint.”

And now, the St Lucia Teachers Union (SLTU) has added to the debate, stating they (SLTU) are concerned about the impact that this matter will have on school discipline.

According to the SLTU statement, if a student is allowed to break one rule, then inevitably the authority of all other rules would be compromised.

The SLTU is therefore calling on parents, the Ministry of Education and the wider community “to work with our schools to protect the integrity of the school system and to allow school to continue to play its part in the development of law-abiding citizens of this country.

Meanwhile, a recent court ruling overturned the school’s decision to prevent the student from attending classes and ordered that he be allowed re-entry to the institution.

Over the past decade and counting and even more so lately, an issue rears up in the public domain to invoke a fair measure of discourse and debate.

The latest controversy about haircut styles and the regulations put in place for students to adhere to has given rise to an age-old phenomenon that has yet to be fully addressed by the authorities.

In every institution, be it academic, business, religious or otherwise there are a set of principles – guided by rules and regulations that are set to determine the latter course of action.

This latest issue is nothing new, other than that it is being refined (if one was to call it that) or readjusted to suit the times or sometimes to debar trendy fashions.

There has been quite a bit of pros and cons favouring or disagreeing with the notion about the length of a student’s hair – and the requirements for attendance at school.

From way back in the 80’s and up until now the issue has been hotly debated in the public forum and presently too, across social media platforms.

It was the late Education Minister Louis George that championed the cause in the mid-80s for Rastafarian children to be allowed access to schools. Public protest, though with limitations had begun to take place and it was only a matter of time that the ‘goodly’ gentleman from the Micoud region stepped in to level out the playing field.

Subsequently, Rastafarian students were allowed to attend school with conditions which stipulated that the hair must be covered at all times during school hours.

Moving past the 80s and 90s and into the New Millennium, the issue has resurfaced in these times, albeit, with a totally different perspective in the public eye.

The latest news reports, cited protest from a parent over the authorities’ refusal to allow his son to attend classes due to the stipulated length of hair regulations not being adhered to.

And now, the air waves and social media outlets have been inundated with discourse and comments on that subject.

One female public commentator, obviously steeped in the African culture, the origins of its people and down to its present lineage adamantly expressed her sentiments on the matter. The irate lady argued that ‘the system’ was definitely attempting to rearrange history by instilling in black people a certain level of ‘European Ethnicity’ when taking into account the grooming of one’s hair or locks.

If one were to recall the ‘golden days’ of the Afro hairstyle –trendy and most common among black folks; and this has given way to different modes of hair styles. Notably, one of the more trendy styles presently to add more lustre and style to the hair is to weave it into locks or braids.

Interestingly, there is a marked differentiation between Rastafarian people – identifiable by the ‘natty dreadlocks’, and the common man or woman styling their hair with locks.

Amidst all the controversy, a representative of the St Mary’s College (SMC) Board of Management has issued a statement in reference to the incident.

Adding to the board member’s ‘colourful portrayal’ of the icon SMC academic institution that has fostered and produced some ‘highly intellectual’ and illustrious individuals, he intoned, all students are accommodated at the SMC “regardless of their socio-economic status, religion or race”, and that the school provides “holistic support to our students …and always employs flexible measures for students who have legitimate written excuses.”

He explained that the “young Samarian was not denied entry to the class unless he cut his hair. No; the young Samarian can keep his hair but must just cover it for entry into class — like all other students with long hair.”

SMC Class of ’81.
SMC Class of ’81.

SMC has had its fair share of debates on issues relating to students’ welfare and grooming requirements in the past , and dating back to 1981- the photo attached to this publication paints a picture of matters that has unfolded over the years. The group of students in the photo were reportedly sent home for failing to meet the hair grooming requirements.

And now, the ball is in the court of the Ministry of Education and with the authorities stating that the ‘hair grooming’ issue is up for review – one anticipates that the matter will be adequately settled and the young students with support from parents and teachers could look forward to taking on the task of learning and gaining knowledge of their habitat and the world at large, while forging a career path to become productive global citizens.

It was quite enlightening to hear the Minister for Education disclose that in addition to increased vocational education training, initially, at some selected schools, the education program will also encompass the language of Mandarin and later down the line, Creole.  But also, the introduction of Black History – and with that should be added Caribbean Literature – to enable young minds and scholars to gain a better understanding of their position and roles in the overall ‘scheme of things’.

Elliot brothers on the way to school.
Elliot brothers on the way to school.

Meanwhile, Al C. Elliot Snr., spoke out on the controversial issue involving his son …with photo attached:

“These are 13 year old identical twins in Form 3 at St. Mary’s College. They are my sons in whom I am very well pleased.

They may not look so identical in this picture, because one has decided to wear his hair grown, while the other has a flatter haircut.

One is being denied entry into his classroom this first day of school, because his hair does not conform to the rules of the school. Can you guess which one that is?,” he said.

Elliot adds, “I am so disappointed in my alma mater. I am disappointed that this is a conversation to be had in 2022.”

He asserts: “The point is that haircuts and hairstyles are subjective, fluid and ultimately a matter of opinion.”

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