Rules are rules, but good sense should prevail
Students standing outside the gate, in hopes of being allowed inside to go to classes at Godfrey Stewart High School on Monday morning. (Photo: Kimberley Peddie)

This newspaper is taken aback by the suggestion that a schoolgirl's uniform extending to five inches above her ankle will somehow protect her from sexual molestation.

That appears to be the position of the principal for Godfrey Stewart High, Mrs Emily Lawrence-Ricketts, whose recent objection to girls coming to school with dresses shorter than five inches above the ankle, and boys with pants deemed too tight, has sparked controversy.

We note that the school principal has received support from Education Minister Mrs Fayval Williams.

An unrepentant Mrs Lawrence-Ricketts has explained that the turn to very long uniforms follows female students being subjected to harassment/molestation while travelling to and from school in taxis and buses. We presume such incidents have been reported to the authorities, including the police. At the very least transport operators in whose vehicles such abuses occur should be held accountable.

Is it reasonable that schoolgirls should be forced to wear uncomfortable clothing especially in oppressive heat in and outside of poorly ventilated classrooms because of a perceived need to protect them from sexual predators? That sounds suspiciously like victim blaming.

Likewise, we feel for under-resourced, cash-strapped parents whose material costs will be higher for excessively long uniforms.

All that said, rules are rules. Indeed, in this space last month, this newspaper voiced sympathy for school leaders and the Ministry of Education who have a hard time getting parents to conform.

Mrs Lawrence-Ricketts tells us that the majority of parents who attended consultations with the school to discuss dress code were in agreement with the rules. We assume that those who protested so vehemently this week did not attend the consultation sessions and failed to read the messages.

For us, equally problematic is the locking out/turning away of children who are in breach of a school's dress code. It's wrong and has been repeatedly described as such by the Ministry of Education.

Minister Williams is on record as saying so.

And, as an impassioned junior minister for culture Mr Alando Terrelonge has argued, it cannot be that the penalty for breaching dress code is to be locked out of school.

And wouldn't the school be culpable should harm come to a child after he/she is locked out?

We have heard from the school leadership at Godfrey Stewart High apparently supported by the education minister that children were not locked out.

However, our reporter, Ms Kimberley Peddie, who made her way to Godfrey Stewart High on the morning of September 12, reported witnessing the lockout of scores of children at the entrance to the school. Graphic photos appeared to support the veracity of her report.

This blocking of students from school is not new. It has happened repeatedly. We are at a loss as to why the Government has not stopped this flagrant breach.

Furthermore, we think it is past time for the Ministry of Education to arrive at basic regulations after relevant consultations applicable to all public schools, governing such things as dress length, format of trousers, and hair grooming.

Sadly, Jamaicans and their leaders have this bad habit of making simple things seem difficult.

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