He did exceptionally well during the Common Entrance exams and like many students was looking forward to his first day at a new school following the long summer vacation. However, three weeks after the start of a new school term, Kenrick Albert has not received one day of instruction at what was supposed to be his secondary school of choice, the St. Mary’s College. It is no fault of his. Over the past three weeks he has been caught in the middle of a war over his long plaits. A war between the school principal Rohan Seon on the one hand who says the boy’s hair has to be cut or covered and his mother Bibiana Williams on the other side, who says she will neither cut or cover her son’s hair.
It was on orientation day on August 30, 2013 that Bibiana Williams says that she first got wind of the school’s position on her son’s hair. “I was sitting at the back of the room talking to some of my past students who were telling me how well they were doing and showing me their prefect badges,” Williams who is a primary school teacher told the Star. “Afterwards as I was walking I was interrupted by Mr. Seon who asked if I was the boy with the plaits mother. I said that I was and he said well you have to cut the hair or cover it, in a really loud and harsh tone,” she continued. “At that point I said Mr. Seon I don’t want to fight with you and I do not want to discuss this with other people around, let us go to your office. So we started to walk towards the office but before we got there he got all loud again saying that the school’s rules are based on common sense, the bible and the law of the land,” Williams claimed. “You have to cut your son’s hair or cover it, was what he then said to me. But I said I will not cut or cover my son’s hair. At that point he said well you will have to take him somewhere else because I am going to strike his name off the list,” Williams says. She told the Star that at that point she left the school and went to the Ministry of Education seeking an audience with the Chief Education Officer, Marcus Nicholas. “He was not in so I tried to see the deputy who was not available either. At that point I asked the secretary for a mobile work number for Mr. Edward which I got. I then left and later sent him a text message stating that I was trying to meet with him,” Williams explained.
Later that afternoon, according to Bibiana Williams, she received a call from Marcus Edward who acknowledged that he was aware of the matter. She said she then went on to explain that there were students at other schools and even teachers who had dreadlocks and did not have their hair covered. “He then said to me that I must understand that schools like SMC had special privileges. So I told him I wanted to know what special privileges the law gives to SMC but did not give to other schools,” she says. According to Williams, she also reminded Mr. Edward that at one time pregnant teenage girls were discriminated against and not allowed to re-enter school until that was challenged. “I also reminded him too that at one point unmarried school teachers who got pregnant were dismissed and that was law, but it was a bad law until it was challenged. Likewise I think this is a bad rule that the school has when it comes to my son’s hair and others like him, and I am willing to challenge it.”
On Tuesday last week Williams says she met with the Education Officer Mrs. Foster who informed her that a letter had reached her desk from Mr Seon concerning her son. “But even before that letter my son had been put outside of the classroom and made to sit on a bench every day,” Williams stated. She was informed by Foster that the school principal had stated that on the first day of school that her son was untidy and unkept.
“I told the education officer that this was untrue and that she could take a drive to the school right now where my son was sitting outside to take a look. She then said to me that I agreed to the rules when my son entered the school. I said yes I did but I did not agree to a bad rule. I am not going to cut his hair or cover it. I will not aid Mr. Seon and the staff of SMC in their quest to expel my son. He has been outside the school; I will continue to take him to school every day, even though I understand that the home room teacher is mean to him. I am not leaving him home, but I am not cutting his hair or covering it.”
Last week Williams says she received a call from the school principal telling her she could end this by cutting the boys hair or covering it. “He also told me that he had spoken to the Ministry of Health and they said all he had to do was write a letter saying that the boy was a vector for ringworms and lice and could spread it,” she alleges. She said when the principal would not allow her to get a word in she hung up. “SMC is a public school. My son is not joining the army, and he is not becoming a policeman so why must I cut or cover his hair to suit a school whose teachers and principal salaries are being paid for by teachers like me?” Williams asks.
Since then she says she has had a subsequent conversation with the Chief Education Officer ahead of a scheduled meeting. “But be prepared to cover your sons hair if you want him to continue going to school,” Edwards warned. To which Williams replied; “I will do no such thing.”
The Star also spoke to St Mary’s College Principal Rohan Seon on Thursday. “Exams results are announced in July and students are assigned to schools. St. Mary’s College prepares packages to send to parents straight away and in the packages are things like the school’s code of conduct, rules and a parent agreement form,” he started to explain. “Since in July the lady would have known about the school’s rules and about things like the child’s hair and so on. And since in July she signed the document saying that she agreed with everything in the code of conduct,” the school principal said.
“On orientation day she shows up with the boy’s hair plaited, I saw her in the hall and spoke to her. I told her the boy’s hair must be cut or covered. She said yes, but I like it so. She brings him back, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday I gave her a letter explaining that if the rules are not adhered to the boy will be barred from participating in further school activities,” Seon says. He also told the Star that he has spoken to the boy on many occasions and he says he wants to do the right thing; he wants to be at school. “We have about nine other boys with long hair who come to school and cover the hair, but this woman is being stubborn, I am not sure if it is something personal she wants to achieve?” Seon wondered aloud.
What many were wondering and commenting on via social media and on the talk shows this week was what sort of pyschological impact the standoff was having on the boy who is innocent in all of this. Are his human rights and child rights being violated and by whom? One of the charters of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child states that every child has the right to adequate healthcare, protection by the state and the right to an education. But as it stands right now Kenrick’s right to education is being denied or at least being delayed, but by who?
Meanwhile another week has gone by and Kenrick Albert has not had a normal day in class like many of his peers who so eagerly awaited the new school term. Clearly he is caught up in something he never designed himself and may be eager for this “standoff” to end and for him to begin his school year. The question is when and what will it take for him to set foot in the classroom of St Mary’s College and begin to head for the top which the school motto says is reached by striving.