COME the start of the new school year tomorrow, Dauriyah Dyer may not have a smooth transition into the system because of her Islamic faith.
Having earned a place at St Hugh's High School through the recent sitting of the Grade Six Achievement Test, Dyer was more than excited to be entering high school until she and her mother found out that St Hugh's will not adjust the style of the tunic to suit her religion's requirements.
Latoyka Dyer, Dauriyah's mother told the Jamaica Observer that under Islamic laws, once a female enters puberty she is required to cover her entire body except for her face and hands. Dyer said that because of this law, she has, requested that the uniforms blouse sleeves be extended to Dauriyah's wrists and the tunic be lengthened to her ankles.
Dyer, however, said that since she had made her request known on July 3, the school's principal, Elaine Cunningham has refused to meet with her to come to an amicable solution about the uniform adjustments.
"When I spoke to her (principal) on July 3 she told us that she is not saying we can do it and she's not saying we cannot do it, she has to speak with the ministry first and contact us and we are to give her a week. Up to now we haven't heard anything from the principal and that was eight weeks ago. On July 26 my husband and I went to the Ministry of Education and spoke to an education officer and was told that our daughter had the right to wear her uniform according to the telling of our religion.
"On July 30, my daughter, accompanied by one of my Muslim sisters went to St Hugh's and was told that the ministry had no right to tell her where the sleeves should go and that they would draft up a letter and contact us further, but when I attempted to give them my e-mail address so they could forward the letter to me, they refused to take it and said they would call me back but I have not heard from anyone since. I have made numerous calls to the office and left messages and none have been returned," she said.
Dyer said that she believes the school's actions are deliberate attempts to frustrate her as school officials keep using an example of other Muslim students who have attended St Hugh's but did not fuss about the school's uniform.
"I believe the principal and other administrators are intentionally ignoring me. I also believe this is an attempt on their part to frustrate me so that we will give up. Their statement to us was that other Muslim students in the past went to St Hugh's and didn't have a problem with the uniform so they don't see why we're making a big deal. They want me to allow my daughter to come to school in short sleeves and I cannot do that, I will not disobey my creator to please St Hugh's," Dyer said.
When the Sunday Observer contacted the school, the principal's secretary said that Cunningham was in a meeting. The secretary, however, went on to say that Dyer is a troublemaker and the school cannot bend the rules to suit one individual.
"Let me tell you straight, she is a troublemaker. I have been here for 13 years and four Muslim students have passed through the school and none of them have had a problem with the uniform. We can't make adjustments for one individual, or else we will have to do it for all," the secretary said.
Sheryl Broomfield, secretary to education minister Ronald Thwaites said that the Chief Education Officer Dorret Campbell has been notified about the situation and the uniform will not be adjusted, but an alternative has been offered to Dyer.
"The sleeves of the uniform will not be adjusted because the school's style is style. However, the ministry and St Hugh's have offered to allow Dauriyah to wear her Islamic dress to school. In the meantime, Mrs Campbell and Mrs Cunningham are currently having dialogue with regard to the issue," Broomfield said.
Dyer, on the other hand, said that she has heard about the offer but she wants her daughter to wear her uniform and she feels disrespected that it is the ministry which made the offer and not the school.
"St Hugh's has not come to me directly and said anything as they see me as a troublemaker because I'm standing up for my daughter's right. She wants to wear her uniform and she deserves to, because she earned her place there. They cannot use the example of the other Muslim girls in my case; it has no basis and I know the law. They need to have a meeting with me; all of us are adults so I don't see the problem," Dyer said.
Dyer maintained that until St Hugh's contacts her directly, Dauriyah will wear her uniform with the sleeves at her wrists and the tunic at her ankles.
"My daughter's uniform will stay the same way until they call me in and I want everything in writing. Until Mrs Cunningham writes a letter saying she can't come to school like that, she will continue to wear the uniform that way. I've read no rule that states that the sleeves cannot be long. They don't have to like me but they have to educate my child," she said.
Dyer further added that because of her persistence she does not want unfair treatment to be meted out to her child when she begins school.
"I don't want any of them there to show her any bad face or treat her indifferent and I will be on the lookout for that," she said.
Dyer said it is common for Muslim girls to be ostracised at schools in Jamaica, but she is not afraid to stand and defend her child's constitutional right.
Apart from coverings, Islamic laws require clothing for women to be loose enough so as not to describe the shape of the woman's body, thick enough so as not to show the colour of the skin it covers, or the shape of the body which it is supposed to hide, and should not be such that it attracts men's attention to the woman's beauty.