Prep school refuses boy, 3, because of hairstyle

Mom says institution is practising discrimination

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT Observer staff reporter hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

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A school’s decision to refuse a three-year-old boy entry because of how his hair is groomed has come under heavy criticism by his parents and social media users who see it as blatant discrimination.


The boy, Zavier Assam, was registered at Hopefield Preparatory School in St Andrew, but his mother, Dr Penelope Amritt, told the Jamaica Observer that because she refused to cut his hair, the school’s vice principal (VP) has decided not to allow her son to attend classes.


When the Observer contacted the school for comment on the issue, the response was "no comment at this time".


"In June I put in an application for Hopefield Preparatory School for my three children to attend. When I put in a picture of my three-year-old boy to attend, she (VP) said ‘he can’t come to the school with his hair like that, it has to be cut’," she said.


"Over the summer I thought about it, whether I should or shouldn’t cut his hair. In the end I felt very strongly that I shouldn’t be forced to make a decision I wasn’t ready to make. I didn’t want to cut his hair and I felt it was discriminating against him and his gender," Dr Amritt said.


"I have a 10-year-old girl, a five-year-old girl and a three-year-old boy. Both the five and three year old have almost exactly the same hair — just below their ears, curly and it is let out in a little afro. When she (VP) saw ‘Zaivi’ she said the reason she feels that boys should cut their hair is because it’s untidy and dirty," Dr Amritt said.


"I told her that I wash their hair the same and comb their hair the same way as any other child, and I don’t think you should discriminate against them according to their gender.


"She said that Zina’s hair (the five-year-old girl) should be tied back. I didn’t mean to address that issue at that time, so I let it go. But over the summer I decided I was not going to cut my son’s hair because I didn’t want to. After I challenged her that I disagreed with her rules of having boys with short hair, she went on to give me this long discussion about head lice in the school. It was getting confrontational between us, so I didn’t address it at that point. She went on to say when the hair is long it is untidy and dirty and she had a problem with head lice, so I need to cut it off," Dr Amritt added.


On Tuesday when the boy turned up for orientation, Dr Amritt pointed out that the VP approached her with the same issue, saying if he was going to attend the school he needed to cut his hair.


"I said it’s my right as a mother to choose how I groom my child’s hair and you’re discriminating against him and any kind of discrimination in terms of gender, race, religion is wrong. She said ‘those are the rules and the rules are there to be followed; you have to follow the rules’. At one point she put her hands out towards me and she screwed up her face and said, ‘why would you want his hair like that anyway?’ I told her I’m not going to answer that question because the way in which you asked it told me that you don’t like his hair and that’s fine, that’s your personal preference, but it’s not for me to choose for me."


Dr Amritt further stated that the VP asked her what she intended to do twice, to which she answered, "I honestly don’t know." She said shortly after the VP gave her the cheque she had signed for payment of her son’s school fee and said "this is yours".


"It was as if to say take your school fee back," Dr Amritt said.


She told the
Observer that she spoke to another parent at the school who has a very good relationship with the VP, however, she said when the parent gave her feedback she was told the VP was "very upset that the issue had gone public".


"[He said] she’s so upset that she’s not going to allow him to come back to the school whether I do or don’t cut his hair, and she’s giving his space to someone else, so I’m not welcome," Dr Amritt said, adding that as a result she had to leave her son at his old school, Fundaciones, while on her way to work yesterday morning.


She added: "Many people have been calling me over the last three days and asking me what I want to achieve from this. I feel very passionately about what I see in Jamaica with discrimination against people, and I’ve spoken to many lawyers about this and many cases have gone to court about Rastafarians being discriminated against."


She said while she was unsure of whether or not she will take legal action against the school, part of what she wants from this is the conversation that makes people more aware of what’s happening in the society and ultimately a law to be passed where you’re not allowed to discriminate against male or female, black or white, afro or otherwise, in terms of your hair texture.


"It does not matter and it does not affect your ability to have a good education in public or private school," she said.


According to Dr Amritt, outside of the issue with her little boy, her five-year-old daughter has had an experience of children not wanting to play with her because she has ‘puffy hair’.


"She’s been traumatised since that one time and she’s wanted me to tie up her hair and not leave it out in the afro she has had her entire life. She keeps telling me, ‘mama, I don’t like my hair, they don’t play with me when I have my hair like that,’" she said. "And now to have somebody who’s in her position [VP] and an educator saying you can’t have your hair out, you have to tie it back, but for a Caucasian girl it’s OK for them, it’s discrimination."


"A lot of it throws back to slavery and it’s a mentality where you think you’re not great and not loving your hair for exactly what it is. The VP has even said to me that ‘all the other parents fall in line and cut their children’s hair; I didn’t expect this of you’. But, the parents I’ve spoken to don’t agree. In terms of schooling, I don’t know what will happen. I rang one school this morning and they told me they may or may not be able to take him and most places are full," Dr Amritt said.


Dr Amritt added: "Many people have asked why do I want to send him back there because they’re going to discriminate against him and make the environment bad for him, but discrimination is wrong and someone has to stand up and talk about it."

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