Contributor Damian Scott has something to say on the scandal supposedly caused by the sending home of a Trinidad schoolgirl for the colour of her hair in his Letter to the Editor:
There is a local saying that there is always more in the mortar than what we see on the pestle. To put it more universally, don’t believe the hype because there is always more to an issue than what is immediately apparent.
In this case, I am referring to the story of the 16-year-old female fifth form student who, as the media reports put it, was sent home because her ‘natural’ hair colour did not conform to the school rules.
Given the Colfire shenanigans of last month, this development—as reported—upset many a person due to the perceived racial and colonial undertones. And rightly so, given the context in which the young lady’s story was portrayed.
However, in this matter, I think the media went for the cheap sensational pop rather than doing the legwork required to put the story in its proper context and perspective. So, allow me to do what the media clearly didn’t and present to you the real story.
The young lady in question went to school with her artificially coloured hair—yes, the colouring in it was not by natural means—and was spotted by the school’s safety officer. This safety officer is a Ministry-employed official who has several wide-ranging responsibilities with regard to student behaviour and discipline. So she was, in fact, doing her job.
The young lady was taken to the office for breach of the school’s rules and it was determined that she would be sent home according to the established guidelines for such disciplinary infractions. So far so good, right?
This is where the story gets murky. According to the school’s own rules, a parent/guardian has to be notified and must come into the office and sign somewhere before the child can be allowed to leave the compound during school hours. This rule was put in place to protect both the school and the child in such incidents.
In this case, that rule was not followed as the child was allowed to depart from the school compound on her own and, according to a source, subsequently met her stepfather who then took her home.
The child’s mother came to the school to complain not so much about the hair colour matter—which was fairly indefensible—but about how her daughter could have been allowed to leave the school premises in violation of the established rules for same. And that should have been the focus of the story!
Had something happened to the young lady outside of the school after she left, the school and its officials would have been fully liable.
Suppose, hypothetically, this girl had used her unexpected freedom to link up with her boyfriend to do whatever they pleased. What would the school have been able to say?
Or, worse yet, if she became the victim of some kind of accident or even criminal assault after leaving the compound in that manner. What would the school have been able to say then?
Also, just to make sure that this isn’t misconstrued as an ‘us-versus-them’ scenario, the mother, her daughter and the safety officer share the same ethnicity.
The school principal, apparently, was caught unawares in this drama. It appears that the school’s sewage systems was acting up and the toilets were not working.
This matter, according to sources, fully engaged the principal’s attention at the time since, if it could not be quickly rectified, he would have had to send the entire student population home.
So he was essentially engrossed by excrement as another staff member was creating another messy situation with a brown-haired girl. When subsequently asked about the incident, the principal could only reply that he knew nothing about it.
Now that the matter is a media sensation—although not for the reason highlighted by the press—it may prove difficult to determine who exactly green-lit the girl’s departure in absence of a parent’s sign off. I’m sure that the self-preservation instinct within whoever is actually responsible has already fully kicked in.
I do not envy the principal’s role in this saga as he had no responsibility in the decision to let the child leave but is no doubt absorbing the bulk of the responsibility and fallout from it.
Let me conclude by saying that I am not a media worker nor do I have any official tie or relationship with a media house. But it cannot be that I have more resources than the media—financial or otherwise—to get the details in a story of this nature.
And by playing to the sentiments already stoked because of the Colfire incident, the media took this story in a direction that it didn’t have to go and fooled a lot of people in the process.
For this, we the public deserve an apology. But you might quicker see my hair dyed pink and purple than receive that.