id=161438503 Principal unsure girl a real 'Rasta' Barred from school due to hairstyle: Camille Bethel
Thursday, February 12th 2009

Elizabeth Crouch, principal of the Maria Regina Grade School in Port of Spain, is questioning whether the seven-year-old pupil who has been away from school for the past month, due to a complaint against her hairstyle, is truly a member of the Rastafarian faith. Asked about the issue in an interview at the school on Monday, Crouch and Frances Oblington, the dean of discipline and vice-principal, said they wanted to know if the child was, in fact, a member of the faith. "What we have here is a claim of Rastafarian faith, but the only evidence is the hairstyle. We have to establish that this child is, in fact, Rastafarian," Crouch told the Express. "I have to be sure that this is a Rastafarian child so I can defend the fact that she is here, and I don't have to speak to any other child about any contravention of the rules of the school." Crouch said this is not something that can be done now since the child's mother, Priya Panmanabhan, wants her in the regular uniform, which is not fair to the school. "Because as the principal, I have to control the other 454 children when I talk about being neat and tidy. What if the boys say they want to grow their hair, what am I going to say; leave them to grow it to whatever length they want to grow it?" she asked. Crouch said the school was not suspending the child because of her hair, but is trying to find out "very anxiously, if this child really is a Rastafarian child", and whether or not she is practising the faith since she has been taking part in all things that are Catholic at the school. "Our question to the mother is: Is this child following her faith if she is doing all these things? I have been trying to get answers on what mansion of Rastafari does the child belong to?" she said. Crouch said the mother's rejection of a hair covering for the child, as suggested as an alternative, also raises questions since their research also shows that Rastafarian girls and women are supposed to cover their heads out of the home. "Because of the principal that I am, if you tell me you are a Rastafarian, I will take you very seriously, and I look for signs...I want to treat correctly with this child to respect this child's faith, if this is what it is." Crouch called for a joint meeting with Panmanabhan, the media and members of the Rastafarian councils locally, regionally and internationally to discuss the upbringing of girls in the Rastafarian way of life. "Because if this child is Rastafarian; then schools nationally have to have a policy on it."

This article was of high interest to me, as I believe it should have been to all the other citizens of this country. Crouch claims that she was trying to find out if the girl was a real Rastafarian or not. She says that based on her research Rastafarian females are supposed to cover their heads when out side of the home. The student at her school, claiming to be a Rasta had her hair uncovered. This, apparently, meant that she was not really Rastafarian. But is the principal's test a valid one? Is she saying that if a person does not display a particular trait of his or her religion then that person is not of that religion? Such reasoning while valid in theory, is not valid in reality. Let me give an example. Christians are followers of Christ. So far as I have read, Christ never sinned. If you're a Christian, then you supposed to never sin. If the previous reasoning is correct, then it follows from Crouches argument, that there are no Christians in the world. There is a popular song that goes “and they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love”. Who do Christians have to love? I think it means that we have to love everyone, including enemies. How many fulfil this requirement? But how exactly does one determine what someone's religion is? My answer is that there is no way. At best, we can say that based on what we know of a particular religion, the individual we're speaking of isn't following it very well. So, the question of whether the girl belongs to the Rastafarian faith cannot be answered, and trying to find the answer would be like counting to infinity twice. I think the appropriate question to ask in these circumstances is whether the child's hear is clean and neat. However, I say “neat” with hesitancy because I know that neatness is very subjective, so that one person may believe that a “ras” cannot be neat, while another person may believe the opposite. What did Crouch mean when she said: "Because as the principal, I have to control the other 454 children when I talk about being neat and tidy. What if the boys say they want to grow their hair, what am I going to say; leave them to grow it to whatever length they want to grow it?" Is she saying that it's obvious that once your hair is long it is not neat or tidy? That's the only meaning that I'm getting. I'm not an impractical person and I can accept that longer hair is more difficult to take care of, but what I cannot accept that once hair is long it is not neat or tidy. If however, the child's hair were untidy then I think the school should have the authority to deny access on that basis. No question on the right of freedom of religion would arise, because it is understood that her right to practise of religion freely had to be balanced against the right of the pupils and teachers not to be injured by nastiness. I think that Crouch has been nothing but sincere about what she think about the hairstyle, which is the frightening thing. This is 2009, the world has changed, we in Trinidad and Tobago do not need England or America to tell us what is acceptable. But even these places with entrenched attidude have changed. America was recently asked the question, “Does a person's race play a part in how well he or she can run a country”. The answered with a resounding NO!. Crouch you are being asked the question, “Does a person's hairstyle have anything to do with his or her education?”. What will you answer? Ironically, she's probably an Obama supporter.

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