It's like locking sinners out of church
Rev says institutions shouldn't bar students; other clergymen say rules are important
DIXON...we operate in a system where we apply rules to provide guardrails against disorder and dysfunction

Religious leaders are at odds on the topic of students being locked out of school for improper grooming and hairstyles.

While one reverend scolds schools and compares students being locked out to sinners being shut out of churches, other clergymen disagree and point to the necessity of governing rules.

Rev Courtney Beason, of Mountain View New Testament Church of God told the Jamaica Observer that schools should be looking out for students instead of locking them out.

"As a pastor, I can't help but equate locking the gate on students who are trying to get an education who were found to be in breach of the rules, to closing the doors of the church on sinners," he said last Thursday.

"School should be that place where you provide an environment where students can gain knowledge, learn basic skills of life, and develop their talents. It should be a wonderful place with various social graces and educational encounters facilitated five days per week. Therefore, it is more than just learning the eight parts of speech per se, but it is also learning how to show up, work hard, and apply what you've learned."

Beason added that every time students turn up at school with improper uniform or hair, instead of wasting "precious contact hours", it should be used as a teaching moment.

"Locking the gate on them is certainly not included. This practice over the years begs the question, 'What would Jesus do?'.

"In the Bible in one instance, the disciples were turning away the children. Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, 'Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God,' Matthew 18:14. Jesus sets the example and shows us that instead of locking out our children from school, we should be looking out for them."

This year alone, there have been numerous occasions when administrators have prevented students from entering school compounds because of attire. The most recent case was at Godfrey Stewart High School in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, where scores of students were locked out and left roaming the streets early September.

Last Wednesday, Education Minister Fayval Williams declared that she had told principals repeatedly not to prevent children from entering schools when they fail to wear the correct uniforms.

Williams said the policy of the education ministry is an overarching one that does not prescribe the details for schools. She said school administrators must make the final decision, as her ministry has no intention of prescribing the length of a girl's uniform or the size of a boy's pants.

Rev Canon Garth Minott, deputy president the United Theological College of the West Indies, said the analogy seems strange, as membership in church is not the same as registration to attend school.

"Nonetheless, I agree that students must be facilitated to attend school at all cost, and matters of discipline are to be worked out in consultation with parents, school boards and school administrators. The minister of education is also talking back to some parents who feel they can pay scant regard to school rules. She is insisting rules are to be kept as they help to maintain order in schools. At the same time, her junior minister is sending a different signal in arguing that hairstyle ought not to be a barrier to education and learning."

Past president of the Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC) Rev Newton Dixon said while he can detect the spirit in the comparison, it does not seem to be correct to equate "students on one hand and sinners on the other.

"This vexed issue is a complicated and multifaceted one, and I want to be careful in the way I outline my views. The first observation I wish to make is that we operate in a system where we apply rules to provide guardrails against disorder and dysfunction. In this regard, I agree with the minister of education that the rules are to be followed.

"This is because they would have been agreed upon by all parties and therefore, require our compliance. It is disingenuous therefore for parents to start kicking against the rules in midstream after their children have been enrolled and admitted to the schools."

Dixon told the Sunday Observer that people must admit that the problem is much deeper than just students and parents expressing unwillingness to comply with the rules.

"I believe that the make-up of some of our rules are out of step with our self-understanding and appreciation of our person-hood, culture and identity. I reject skin-bleaching because it is an expression of the self-hate which has its roots in a socio-historical reality which was ousted upon and dehumanising us. In a similar vein, I call into question some of and aspects of our rules which have their origins and bases in a social setting which is not historically and culturally affirming of us as people of African descent," he said.

"We must craft laws, rules and regulations therefore which reflect who we are. Yet, we must find the balance which acknowledges the fact that there is tremendous diversity in who we are. The balanced approach must also point us to the standards which we can agree on as promoting moderation, discipline and decency," Dixon continued.

The ideal, he lamented, cannot be excluding the student.

"I have worked in the school system and I do not think that schools indiscriminately deny students entry to school when they commit infractions. I know also of the logistical challenges which sometimes accompany the attempts to treat with students who, for whatever reason, repeatedly disobey the school rules. I agree therefore with the call of one very eloquent youth leader for the updating of the underpinning philosophy of our rules. This new examination of this matter must be multifaceted, pluralistic and relevant to our contemporary situation."

Rev Herro Blair Jr, director of Jamaica Youth for Christ, said students enter school knowing the rules, and they have an obligation to follow the rules.

"When I went to Oral Roberts University, I was told that I had to wear a shirt and tie. White men were not allowed to have their hair pass the shirt collar, and we were not allowed, black and white, to wear a beard. So, I went to school knowing the rules and could not then tell them that I wanted to attend classes while breaking the rules. I believe that the situation in Jamaica is one where indiscipline is rampant and as a people, we have gotten used to finding ways to work around the rules," he reasoned.

Blair Jr said it is "rather sad" that some people are prepared to develop youngsters with the thought that all they need is an education, while the competitive global marketplace prepares the rest of the world to be the best that they can be in all areas.

"We must take them beyond the belief that all they need to do is look and act like their superstars who they follow on social media. We must show them that hard work is still important, but so is respect for systems and principles. Why is it that we should water down the rules?"

Blair Jr told the Sunday Observer that people tend to do their best to follow the rules in countries that demand them to.

"What that shows us is that until we make the effort to set up, enforce, and maintain the rules necessary for change in our society, then we will always be a step behind those who are moving forward. Canada, in its efforts to help develop programmes in the Caribbean, has pointed to the need for structure. While serving in the correctional services, I surveyed many of our young men and found that they had come up through the juvenile system and out of homes that were not stable. They all pointed to not having structure in their lives."

In addition, the pastor called on the church to give stronger support to the schools than just devotions.

"We should be supporting the schools by supplementing the work of the guidance counsellors and principals. We should support every effort for discipline, and become integral in the efforts to teach character, integrity, and respect. I will say, however, that in the event of a child coming to school with a uniform that is inadmissible, then the option could first be a warning and thereafter, a sending home.

"Maybe also after the warning the child could be told to set an appointment for the parents to attend a meeting, which will indicate that a warning has been given, and the next infraction would be the sending home of the child," Blair Jr said.

MINOTT... I agree that students must be facilitated to attend school at all costs.
BLAIR... I believe that the situation in Jamaica is one where indiscipline is rampant (Photo: Romardo Lyons)
Romardo Lyons

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