Judge erred – Achimota, A-G fight court ruling to admit Rasta boys

Achimota School and the Attorney-General have filed an appeal challenging an Accra High Court ruling to admit two students with dreadlocks.

The court had directed the prestigious school to enrol Tyrone Marhguy and Oheneba Nkrabea, who were earlier denied admission on grounds that keeping their dreadlocks was not in accordance with the school’s regulations.

In its ruling on May 31, the judge, Gifty Adjei Addo said the failure to admit the students because of their dreadlocks, which is a manifestation of their religious right, violates their human rights to education and dignity.

“What has the wearing of dreadlocks which is a manifestation of one’s religious rights, got to do with upholding the discipline in the school?” she quizzed.

It was the judge’s view that for the school to maintain that a person must cut their dreadlocks before they are admitted is against the 1992 constitution.

“I reject the argument of the respondents that upholding the reliefs of the applicant will discriminate against other students who abide by the rules of the school.

“Fundamental human rights are not absolute and can be limited by statutes and policies, but this must be juxtaposed with the public interest as in this current case.

“What reasonable justification has been put before the court in the implementation of school rules to convince the court to rule in favour of the respondents,” she asked.

The judge pointed out that the ultimate aim of the school rules is to enhance discipline and academic excellence.

“How keeping low hair enhances hygiene in the school has not been expressed in this court and how the applicant keeping his dreadlocks would affect his health and the health of other students,” she reiterated.

But appealing the ruling, Achimota School argued that the High Court erred by indicating that the rules and regulations of the school with regard to ensuring uniformity in appearance is unlawful and interferes with one’s religious rights.

Therefore, the school has urged the Court of Appeal to set aside the judgement and order the plaintiffs to comply with the school’s regulations if they choose to be students of the school.

In support, the A-G’s department insists the decision by Achimota School does not interfere with the right to the education of the boys.

“The learned judge erred when she held that the regulation of the 1st respondent requiring that students keep their hair low amounted to an illegal and unconstitutional attempt to suspend the manifestation of the applicant’s guaranteed freedom to practice and manifest his religion.

“The learned judge erred when she held that respondent’s actions of asking the applicant to step aside during the registration process are a violation of his right to dignity especially when the 2nd respondent had disputed the veracity of that fact,” parts of the appeal by the A-G’s office stated.

It is unclear what happens to the students now that they have been admitted by the school and even participated in the end of semester examinations on Friday, June 4, 2021.

How it all started

A parent of one of the affected students, Ras Aswad Nkrabea, took to social media to express his frustration over the development.

“The school authorities denied two brilliant dreadlocked students from being admitted after being posted there by the Computer School Placement System.

“My son was one of the affected children, and the other student was also refused on the same grounds,” the disappointed father narrated in a Facebook post.

This generated a public uproar, with a section of Ghanaians calling out the school for discriminating against the students.

Breach of Right to Education

The development sparked public outrage on social media, with a section of the public condemning the actions of the authorities at Achimota School.

The Executive Director of the Africa Education Watch, Kofi Asare, vehemently condemned the decision of the school to deny the Rastafarian students admission.

Article 25 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana establishes the right of the Ghanaian citizenry to have access to equal educational opportunities and facilities.

Mr Asare pointed out that the authorities at Achimota School have breached this provision of the constitution.

“The issue of education being a right is explicit in Article 25 of the 1992 Constitution… Section 3 and 8 of Act 560 explicitly states that no person shall discriminate against a child on the grounds of Religion and Custom.

“And in section A, the same Act provides that no person shall deprive the child of access to education.  Based on Article 25 of our constitution and its attendant regulations in the Children’s Act, no agency in this country has the right to deprive a child of the right to education.

“They’re wrong. I’m not the one saying they’re wrong. The Act of Parliament, Act 560, Section A is saying they’re wrong because they have discriminated against the child and denied the child his right to education,” Mr Asare said in an earlier interview.

It is almost an annual ordeal for Rastafarian families to be denied admission into second cycle institutions due to their dreadlocks.

Kofi Asare charged the Rastafarian Council of Ghana to go to court to end their frustrations.

Previous incident

The practice of school authorities turning away Ghanaian students with dreadlocks is an old one.

In September 2017, a teenager was denied admission into Accra Girls Senior High School because she had dreadlocks.

According to the father, his daughter is a Rastafarian, and it was against their religion to cut off the locks.

The distraught father said efforts to explain issues to school authorities proved futile.

He was convinced the school’s decision to deny his daughter admission is borne out of ignorance.

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