Godfrey Stewart High firm on dress code policy
Students stand at the grille to Godfrey Stewart High, hoping to be allowed inside the school. (Photos: Kimberley Peddie)

SAVANNA-LA-MAR, Westmoreland — Neither the roadblocks mounted nearby nor protesting parents could sway administrators of the Godfrey Stewart High School into relaxing their dress code and allowing entry to students they deemed in breach of the rules on Monday.

The school steadfastly stuck to their view that skirts that are no more than five inches above the ankle protect young girls from being molested and boys' pants must not be less than 16 inches in diameter.

When the Jamaica Observer visited the Westmoreland school shortly after 9:00 am, hundreds of students were seen milling about outside as some parents clutched the school gate trying to persuade the principal to allow their children inside.

Scores of students outside Godfrey Stewart High School, who were not allowed to enter because their uniforms were said to be in violation of school rules. Many were seen returning home.

"Nothing is wrong with their uniforms. It's all about learning. It is a risk fi di kids dem on the road; later yuh a guh hear seh dem missing," distraught mother Stephanie Fullwood told the Observer.

She said the institution should have informed parents about the uniform guidelines.

However, Principal Emily Lawrence-Ricketts told the Observer that parents were informed of the new changes. The guidelines, she said, were provided in packages provided to parents and others were informed via the WhatsApp platform.

A photograph of the school's uniform guidelines, which administrators said was included in an information packet given to parents and also sent via WhatsApp.

"Since May 26, one of the reasons we are having this uniform conformity drive is that we have a number of predators who molest the young girls in taxis and buses. What we are trying to do is use the uniform as a deterrent. When the uniforms are short [the predators] tend to touch the students. There has been a surge in molestation cases at the institution because of the public transportation," Lawrence- Ricketts explained.

"The PTA [Parent Teachers' Association] has made provision to provide one uniform free of cost to those struggling parents. Those uniforms are made at the school," she added.

On Monday morning, Lawrence-Ricketts stood at the gate and hand-picked students who could enter the school's premises. Those deemed in breach, and their parents, pleaded with the principal to be lenient but she was not having it.

Students stand at the grille, hoping to be allowed inside the school. As parents have noted, some of the uniforms do not appear to be in breach of the school rules.

One parent, who only identified herself as Ricco, told the Observer that both her daughters were blocked from entering the institution on Monday morning.

She theorised that some students who were barred even though their uniforms conform to the rules are being penalised because they did not purchase uniforms from the school. The school charges $3,000 for a skirt while tailors charge between $1,000 and $1,200, she said.

"Wi nuh have it, nuh have $3,000. And it hard, a PATH mi a live affa, mi nuh have nuh money mi stress, mi bruk, mi nuh have no baby father," she stressed.

Soldiers cleared the debris used to block the busy thoroughfare.

"It backward bad, of course it is backward. Dem need fi set an easier system. If a nuh over school di uniform buy, yuh cyah come in," the mother complained.

Another single mother who said her daughter was also not allowed inside told the Observer that the incident had left her angry. She said she watched students faint, as they stood in the hot sun.

By mid-afternoon, Principal Lawrence-Ricketts was locked in a meeting with the Ministry of Education's director for Region 4 Michelle Pinnock and parents anxiously awaited word of what will happen when they go to school on Tuesday.

Up to press time there was no word on the outcome of the meeting.

Debris used to block the road as parents and students protested after those deemed in breach of the school's dress code were not allowed into school.
BY KIMBERLEY PEDDIE Observer writer

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