Cayman Islands public schools will consider a stricter dress code for students, following a review this year.
The policy was last changed in 2014 to allow male students to have long hair, if kept tied back, and to wear earrings.
Education officials said the changes were agreed among all school principals before the change was made.
East End MLA Arden McLean, one of several lawmakers who said Monday that they disagreed with the dress code changes, asked why the school principals were even consulted on a decision involving public policy and morality.
“Why can’t we have a school dress code that says [the students’] pants must be around their waist and what length their hair is cut and where there should be … an earring in their nose?” Mr. McLean said. “We … [are] letting this country go and we are blaming it on human rights.”
Education Minister Tara Rivers said Monday that most of the issues Mr. McLean raised are already prohibited by the dress policy.
With regard to two issues, boys with long hair and earrings, Ms. Rivers said those are allowed if the earrings are small and the hair is kept neatly tied back.
“We can’t say now that girls can wear earrings but boys can’t … because you’re discriminating,” Ms. Rivers said, to some vocal disapproval among assembly members. “If we say ‘no earrings,’it should be no earrings across the board.”
Mr. McLean said he would be fine with that. “Why is it that our children need to wear jewelry to school?” Ms. Rivers said these issues would be under consideration when the dress code is reviewed.
The minister said the public school dress code sets out a number of rules, including the length of skirts, the kind of shoes, the kind of jewelry allowed (plain stud earrings and watches), no gang-related apparel, hair must be groomed if worn long, and no “extreme” hairstyles. Other prohibitions are beads in the hair, shaved eyebrows and false fingernails.
“I don’t believe in a police state … that is, after you become an adult,” Mr. McLean said. “But we have responsibilities to those who are beneath that age of majority. If we don’t step up, what’s the use of us being here?”
Finance Minister Marco Archer, chairing the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee during which the debate was held, noted that it is an issue government should look into.
“It’s not often that I will say I agree with Mr. McLean with respect to certain issues, but I think he has a point,” Mr. Archer said.
However, Minister Archer cautioned that school policies regarding uniforms and other issues can only be taken so far.
“It is for the parents and the children to ensure they do everything they can to obtain an education,” Mr. Archer said. “The more time schools have to act as policemen, the less time they have to educate children.”
Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush argued that the government needs to state what its position is on such matters.
“You don’t need to come here to tell us that we need to be doing if you’re not doing so yourselves,” Mr. Bush said.