Pupil’s cap the problem, not hair, says school

Ismail Johnson, 17, from Eastridge.

An Eastridge boy who was told he needs to look “decent” when at school, is now not attending school at all.

Ismail Johnson, 17, a practising Rastafarian from Eastridge, is at home because he is not allowed to attend Tafelsig High School with his long and bushy hair, which he has grown for religious reasons. However, he told Plainsman, he wears a cap over his hair when he goes to school.

The principal, however, told the Plainsman he had no problem with the boy’s hair. It was the cap he wore which is not in keeping with the school’s dress code.

He went to school on Thursday January 16 but the principal told him to go home – and when he returned with his mother, Badruniesah Johnson, on Wednesday January 22, the school secretary told them the principal could only see them the following Monday.

“In Grade 8, 2018, I grew my hair. The school told me to cut it and I did. In Grade 9, 2019, I grew my hair again and they had no problem with it. This year, Grade 10, they sent me home. I told them I can’t cut my hair. I also looked for a job as they did not want me back at school. I want to go to school, I don’t want to be at home,” said Ismail.

Ms Johnson said when she visited the school, “the principal said he needs to look decent”.

“Last year, they allowed it but not this year.”

And since Ismail has been at home, she added, nobody had reached out to them to ask where Ismail was or if he was going to return to school.

Ms Johnson sprained her ankle in an accident in December 2019, making it difficult for her to travel and run errands.

“I do not have taxi fare to get to school all the time,” she said. “Some days I am unable to visit the school (but) Ismail is not a problem child.”

Tafelsig High principal Clarence Rogers, said when the matter of Ismail’s hair was brought to his attention, he had addressed the young man about it and briefed him on the school’s code of conduct.

Mr Rogers gave Ismail a letter so that his parents can visit the school.

As for the cap, said Mr Rogers, it is not part of the school’s dress code.

“The cap is not the school rule,” he said. “When the mother visited the school I told her the child must look decent, the attire, from top to bottom.”

Mr Rogers added that he knew that Ismail and a few other pupils at the schools were practising Rastafarians.

“There are Rastafarians with hair longer than Ismail’s, but they do not wear a cap. The dreadlocks are allowed but it must look decent. Nobody has been barred because of hair. This is part of our admission policy. It states we allow all religions at our school including Rastafarians,” he said.

“You cannot wear anything you want. There was no problem with his hair, it was what was on top of the hair that was the problem,” he said.

And, said Mr Rogers, Ismail was welcome to return to school, “on one condition – the cap must stay at home”.

“The school governing body draws up the policy of the school and we, the school management need to enforce it,” he said.

Western Cape Education Department spokesperson Bronagh Hammond, said the pupil had not been de-registered from the school. “He is welcome to return to the school, as long as he complies with the school code of conduct which allegedly states that no caps are allowed.”

“The hairstyle is not an issue. There are other pupils at the school that have dreadlocks and this is accepted by the school. The issue is with the cap itself,” she said.

Ms Hammond said the school has engaged with the parent.