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Is Rastafari being persecuted?

HAPPIER TIMES: Tuesday Flanders, left, with her son Chikayzea

THE RASTAFARIAN family of a 12 year-old London pupil who was ordered by his school to cut off his dreadlocks are considering taking legal action.

Tuesday Flanders and her son Chikayzea said that Fulham Boys’ School’s ‘no dreadlocks’ hair policy is discriminatory and doesn’t take account of the fact that dreadlocks hold a number of religious meanings for Rastafarians including the Biblical command not to cut one's hair.

The west London school says it has a strict uniform and appearance policy.

The school told Chikayzea that his he had to cut his hair to conform to the school’s policy of hair length. His mother Tuesday Flanders claimed she tied up her son’s dreadlocks to meet the school’s policy. She was sent a copy of the school’s policy on hair in March when applying for her son to attend the school.

However, she said the school cannot expect her to cut her son's hair as it is an expression of her family's faith, religion and culture.

She also said she had a meeting with head teacher Alun Ebenezer in the hope of trying to come to a resolution on the issue but was told the school had “a policy of no dreadlocks”.


TURNED AWAY: Chikayzea Flanders with his hair tied-up to meet the school’s hair policy

The policy has now left the mum considering legal action against the school.

She told The Voice:

“It’s my belief, my family’s belief. We have been Rastafarians for 30 to 40 years. No school should be able to dictate things like that. It can never be right. It’s a human right."

Flanders alleges:

“The headmaster dismissed dreadlocks as a fashionable hairstyle. Having asked my partner and I more about what Rastafari means during an initial meeting, he said it was a cult. We made Biblical references to contextualise our explanation of Rastafari. Mr. Ebenezer went on to say that he’s written a biography about the Bible and it is all a myth. This is a man who’s the principal of a church school.”

The Old Testament, in Numbers 6:5, states:

“All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head (…) and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.”

This is one of the premises upon which many Rastafarians base their hair growth.

“The problem is, the only thing that these people didn’t put on their policy is that they do not want any black people in their school. Why else would these people put in their policy that they don’t want dreadlocks in their school, to screen the type of students they want in the school based on appearance? Is this acceptable? That is the bigger issue at hand here.”

Angela Jackman, Partner at Simpson Millar solicitors, said that the Flanders may have grounds for a legal case against the school.

She told The Voice:

“I think that there’s definite grounds for seeking to challenge the school’s view that Rastafari is not a religion, and to have it looked at in the context of the Equality Act 2010 as well as in the context of previous litigation, concerning schools and policies relating to African Caribbean hair.

“Fulham Boy’s school’s policy does say that it will entertain applications for exemption based upon religion.”

Jackman said Flanders’ case also highlighted a wider cultural issue.

Jackman’s legal direction secured a High Court victory in the landmark ‘G case’ in 2011. ‘G’, an 11 year-old pupil, was refused entry on his first day at St. Gregory’s Catholic Science College in 2009 because of his canerows. G's African-Caribbean family claimed the style was of importance to his cultural identity.

The solicitor said:

“G’s family were very clear that their cultural practice is that men do not cut their hair. In order to manage it – his hair is quite long – that is why he wore it in cornrows.

“I do think that it is a broad issue and I’m of the strong view that how African-Caribbean people wear their hair should be a matter of choice. What’s wrong is where institutions insist that we have to compromise and change our appearance to suit their values.”

In a statement to The Voice, The Fulham Boys School said:

“The Fulham Boys School has a clear uniform and appearance policy. This is available on the school website, is summarised in the school prospectus and is explained to prospective parents and pupils at open days. The policy is reinforced in letters to all parents, including new parents, before the start of each new school year.

“Parents are informed that the policy is strictly enforced. The policy itself specifies that any parent seeking modification should raise the issue with the Headmaster, and this invitation to discuss any concerns with the policy is made clear at open days. The sanctions for failing to adhere to the policy are also clearly spelt out.”

The statement continued:

“The school can confirm that a complaint has been received following the school’s request to a pupil that his hair comply with the appearance policy. The parents concerned have requested a response to their complaint within 28 days. The school has confirmed it will respond within its 15 day timeframe for handling complaints.

The Fulham Boys School is a Church of England School, welcoming of all faiths and none. This was confirmed by its recent Ofsted inspection and is manifest in the inclusive reach of the pupils on roll.”

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