Legal Eagle : Urgent need for national grooming policy in schools

June 12, 2017

The recent arrest and charge of three teachers from Vauxhall High School once more underscores, the need for a national policy on grooming for all schools in Jamaica.

Last year, Education Minister Ruel Reid promised to implement clear policy guidelines to govern hairstyle and grooming for all schools.

Hopefully, the policy is getting its final haircut and grooming before it is presented for all to see.

At present, each school is allowed to implement its own grooming policy, but this lack of uniformity nationwide has caused problems as some schools allow for different haircut and style than other schools.

The news of the aforesaid arrest of the teachers was most unfortunate. The allegations, as reported in the media, are that the teachers held a male student and trimmed him and in doing so, they assaulted and wounded him.

Now the parents have reported the matter to the police and the teachers are arrested and charged.

It is hoped that the grooming policy, when implemented by the Ministry of Education, will reflect some of the modern realities of our societies.

Jamaica has taken steps to transition from a harsh and brutal society to a kinder and gentler one.

Ccorporal punishment in our schools has been the subject of discussion over many years by successive Jamaican governments.

However, in January 2011, then Education Minister Andrew Holness developed a Green Paper which was to be discussed by Cabinet and thereafter to be tabled in Parliament for the abolition of corporal punishment from our schools and to introduce alternate methods.

Six years later, Holness, now Prime Minister, is at it again, this time saying that the Education Act will be amended to specifically prohibit corporal punishment. This delay is unfortunate but still necessary.

No one knows if the current charges slapped on the teachers can be proved in court, but it must be noted that in a section of the Child Care and Protection Act dealing with cruelty to children, it provides that a person commits an offence, being an adult and having the custody, charge or care of any child wilfully assaults, physically or mentally ill-treats a child in a manner likely to cause that child unnecessary suffering or injury to health.

If found guilty on summary conviction before a Parish Court, the person may be subject to a fine not exceeding J$1 million or imprisonment with hard labour not exceeding three years.

On top of the criminal charge, if convicted, the penalty of a huge fine or imprisonment and, thereafter, the loss of employment as a teacher should put any teacher on pause on the next occasion when a student is to be punished.

Should there be no clear policy, in the event of what might be considered as breach of school policy, a teacher might be advised to report the student to the principal or dean of discipline and walk away.

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