Minister of Education Francis Fonseca has gone on record to say that he does support any school’s rule which denies students the right to an education due to the length of their hair. Fonseca’s response comes after the story we aired of the dozens of Bishop Martin High School students who were sent home for having untidy hair. The incident sparked much controversy and led to the Ministry of Education issuing a press release on the matter. In its release, the ministry stated that the rule violated the constitutional rights of students. The ministry informed the school that the male students should not have been removed from or denied admission to school because of the length of their hair. However, the Belize National Teacher’s Union was not satisfied with that response and says the ministry failed to hold the school’s management accountable for their action. Here’s how Minister Fonseca responded to that criticism.
Francis Fonseca, Minister of Education: “I don’t know how that could be said. The ministry put out a very clear, strong, statement on the issue. Schools do have the right. Let me say that very clearly. Schools do have the right to set rules. We want our students disciplined, of course, but those rules cannot be unconstitutional. They cannot be arbitrary. They cannot be discriminatory in any manner. We have a fundamental objective and responsibility at the Ministry of Education to ensure that we protect the constitutional rights of our students, as well as our teachers, in this case we’re talking about students. So people have kind of put up this straw argument about it being about discipline. It’s not about discipline. We’re all in favour of discipline. Everybody wants our young people to be disciplined. We want productive, positive citizens produced in our education system. The education system also has to follow the laws of the country and the rules of the country. So we were very clear and immediately, the Chief Education Officer got in contact with the management of Bishop Martin Highschool immediately and informed them of the law, informed them of the rules, informed them of the ministry’s position and the school was obliged to comply. Some of the young people, their parents agreed to cut their hair and that’s fine but not everything has to be a public argument. If we can settle issues in a respectful manner then that’s what we’re going to do. See these things are shackles of colonialism that are still a part of… you know. What does the length of your hair have to do with how you learn? As one young person, I think, posted on social media “It’s not about what’s on top of your head. It’s what’s inside your head.” So I totally agree with that. You know, young people, as I said, schools have rules and they’re, you know, we’re not against any of those rules but you cannot be discriminatory, arbitrary, you know, and certainly not unconstitutional. So I don’t think the length of your hair or your hairstyle has anything to do with your ability to learn and your educational capacity.”