Schoolgirl hairstyle row: Kinks not ironed out

Secondary school student Kalika Morton claims she is being victimised by her school principal due to her hairstyle.

Photo: Lincoln Holder
Secondary school student Kalika Morton claims she is being victimised by her school principal due to her hairstyle. Photo: Lincoln Holder

Energy Minister Franklin Khan's claim, in Parliament, that kinks surrounding alleged discrimination against a student over her choice to wear her hair in natural hairstyles at school, was ironed out, has been hit by civil pressure group The Cross Rhodes Freedom Project (CRFP).

The group is calling on the Ministry of Education to properly address the matter of discrimination against 15-year-old student Kalika Morton by St Stephen’s College in Princes Town, over the wearing of her natural hairstyle to school as reported in a Newsday front page article on Friday September 27.

CRFP Director Shabaka Kambon told Newsday on Sunday that the ministry has created a disadvantageous environment for people of African descent who chose to wear their hair in natural styles at school. He said, “I think the ministry has tried to kill and bury this issue for whatever reason. I do not think they are aware of the progress that is taking place globally with the wearing natural hair."

A CRFP media release on the weekend stated that the “resolution claim by the minister is baseless” and it is calling for an “outcome that will make a definable difference for our society.”

The matter was raised last September by the student's mother Leiselle Morton-Taylor, widow of deceased West Indies and TT cricketer Runako Morton. Morton-Taylor claimed her daughter was picked on for almost two years because of her choice to go to school with certain natural hairstyles such as Bantu knots, twists and cornrows.

Kalika's decision to wear natural hair styles at school was defended by many including Trini-born Facebook Global Chief Diversity Officer, Maxine Williams and Minister in the Education Ministry Dr Lovell Francis.

On Tuesday December 10, during sitting of the Senate, Leader of Government Business, Franklin Khan, said that an investigation into reports of discrimination against the St Stephen's College student, had ended. Khan told the Parliament during questions for oral answer, that the student is allowed to wear her natural hair without discrimination. This investigation followed a pre-action protocol letter sent to the school by Morton-Taylor.

"The school supervisor on receipt of the complaint met with the school administration which are the Principal, the Vice-Principal and Dean and the Arch Deacon of the Anglican Church. Discussions centred on Section 7 of the Education Act, Chapter 39:01 which treats with the prohibition of discrimination and; the revised National School Code of Conduct May 2018 – Principles of respect and rights.

"Further, the Principal gave the assurance that no student at that school will be denied an opportunity for education because of any form of discrimination. The student in question continues to wear her natural hairstyle without any negative repercussions and so do all other students," Khan said.

But the CRFP said, “In the context of the information we have received, such a conclusion appears baseless. Up to today, the Ministry of Education has not had the courtesy to communicate directly with Ms Leiselle Morton-Taylor about her daughter’s case.” Kambon said the child can attend school but questioned the ministry’s approach.

He said, “Why is there such a level of disregard and disrespect for a prominent member of society?” The family has received a pre-action protocol letter from an official at the school, threatening legal action against some aspects of the case, the CRFP said.

“Discrimination of this kind happens regularly to both boys and girls. Things need to change, starting with a national conversation and then we can look at legislation, sensitisation and cultural shifts. This is a serious matter. People are wearing their natural hair more than before. Apart from knowing about damage that hair products cause, people understand and have embraced their natural hair and beauty,” Kambon said.

He added that attempts have also been made by the Emancipation Support Committee (ESC), headed by his father Khafra Kambon, to the Education Ministry, via letters, to have an investigation into the matter across all schools. CRFP said, “We know for a fact that what happened at St (Stephens) was not an isolated incident. Up to today, the ESC has not received a reply.

“Officials have steadfastly snubbed the whole spectrum of Afro-Trinidadian civil society groups that have called for action and ignored interventions from high profile citizens of African descent...”

It added that the only comfort Morton-Taylor can take from this is that no other individual or group who has championed this issue has been treated any differently.

CRFP said the issue of African hairstyle is a widespread and long debated issue in which it is a fundamental racist belief that it is not suitable for formal settings and is messy, unkempt, unhygienic and even disruptive.

It said, “We must remember that every inch of cultural space that non-white people occupy in the Caribbean is space that they have had to fight for. It is the things we take for granted today. Somehow in all of this struggle, we dropped the ball on natural African hair and hairstyles.”


"Schoolgirl hairstyle row: Kinks not ironed out"

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