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When hair gets in the way

rhondathompson, [email protected]

When hair gets in the way

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IT SEEMS AS THOUGH 2012 in Barbados will be the year of Alexandra School – and not in a very positive way.
Mere weeks after 30 striking teachers led by the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union met with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and decided to go back to classes under Jeff Broomes, the embattled principal against whom they had protested for three weeks, the Speightstown school has been launched back into the public spotlight.
This time it’s not Broomes in contention with any teacher or even one of those who carried placards calling for his separation from Alexandra; it’s Broomes versus a student, most of whom clamoured for him during the national industrial dispute, and the students’ parents over – you guessed it – a haircut. How ironic!
While Broomes himself has declined to comment extensively on this new fiasco, which involved the cutting of a boy’s hair by a teacher and the boy’s subsequent suspension from Alexandra, the boy’s mother is on record as saying that she called the teacher who cut her son’s hair and that teacher confirmed that he acted on the instruction of the principal.
The matter has rightly been referred to the Ministry of Education and is being “actively dealt with”, but how could this have happened in the first place?
If, according to reports, the principal had spoken to the boy on several occasions about his hair, one would expect that Broomes’ next logical step would have been to write a short letter to the parents urging them to have the youngster properly groomed upon his return to classes.
The arbitrary cutting of his hair by a teacher, without the knowledge or consent of his parents, smacks of an almost pre-colonial act on someone who, in those days, would have had no rights and whose hair would then have been derisively referred to as “nappy” or otherwise unsightly.
But we are long past those “bad old days”, aren’t we? And Barbadians with similar types of hair are allowed to live, move and have their being without prejudice, while practising varied skills across national spheres ranging from the Houses of Parliament and the courts of law to the Barbados Postal Service and the tourism industry. And yes, our students, some with dreadlocks, plaited hair and muffs, have for some time been allowed to do likewise.
Even in the disciplined environment called school, children of any ethnicity have been allowed to wear their hair in keeping with the cultures of their race, once it is tidy and clean and in no way hampers that child or any other from learning.
 The irate mother, who subsequently met with Broomes, has reasons too for concern, including both the fact that her son’s former hairstyle is also worn by fellow students and theirs have not been cut by teachers, and the health implications since there is no evidence that the boy’s haircut was done with sanitary equipment.
How degrading, especially for the boy!
The added news that the parents are not being allowed back on the compound also leaves one aghast, since there has been no evidence that they had disturbed the peace there. Entering school compounds is precisely what Barbadians and others privileged to reside here have been doing for years – to wit, dropping off and picking up their children and charges daily.
While the entire matter seems alarming, we anxiously await the outcome, for it not only throws a spanner into the smooth transition from Phase 1 to other phases of the Alexandra industrial impasse, but threatens to erode some of the public sympathy for dear old “Uncle Jeff”.