Torstar News Service Janna and twin sister Hana El-Daly, 12, pose with friends Diana Hoyt, 13, and Lily Hopkinson, 12, in Brampton. The girls are organizing a "hug-in" later this month to protest a school rule against such contact.

The 12- and 13-year-old girls wanted only to hug, as they do.

But they kept getting warnings.

“No loving, no shoving,” teachers at Brampton’s Earnscliffe Senior Public School often told them, repeating a motto attached to a rule that is designed to help protect students against roughhousing or unwanted touching.

The sentiment of the motto is fine, say Grade 6 and 7 students Diana Hoyt, Lily Hopkinson and twins Janna and Hana El-Daly. “Parts of it make complete sense,” says Lily. “There shouldn’t be hitting or any of that.”

The problem, say the girls, is that the rule stipulating no touching also stops them from doing something they feel is entirely innocent — hugging.

“Two friends hugging is different from a boy and a girl making out in the corner,” Lily says.

Over the past month or so, when both Hana and Janna got reprimanded for embracing upset friends in the hallways, the girls began feeling fed up.

So, they decided to embrace their inner activists.

The four came up with a plan for a “hug in” at their school later this month to protest the “ridiculous” rule. There’s a Facebook page advertising details for the June 20 lunchtime event (inspired by ’60s-era sit-ins protesting the Vietnam War), and an online petition that’s been gaining momentum.

“Skin contact makes people happy,” says Janna. “It’s a completely natural thing and they’re completely stigmatizing it.”

For their part, the Peel District School Board says there is no ban on hugging.

“The rule is really intended to remind students to keep their hands and feet to themselves,” said acting communications director Carla Pereira, who added that at Earnscliffe, and other schools across the board, children do hug.

“We’re not policing every instance for sure,” said Pereira. “In terms of a hug, generally speaking, if it was at the wrong place at the wrong time it might not be permitted.”

The girls disagree. They say they’ve gotten verbal warnings for walking arm-in-arm down the hallways and for leaning their heads on each other’s shoulders after school.

Their parents are in full support of the crusade. Diana’s mom, April Hoyt, said she couldn’t be prouder of her daughter.

“I’m very fond of hugs. I definitely think they’re part of growing up,” she says, adding, “I’ve always encouraged my daughter to hug her friends and be affectionate in an appropriate manner.”

There is no board-wide policy on student-to-student touching, said Pereira. Instead, individual schools make rules regarding touching — something that is “very, very common.” The rules exist, she says, to ensure the safety of students on a daily basis and could be included in a school agenda or conveyed to students throughout the year.

While a “no hugging” policy isn’t specifically spelled out at Earnscliffe, it’s certainly enforced there, says April Hoyt, adding the “crazy rule” exists elsewhere, too. At Diana’s previous school, Herb Campbell Public School in Caledon, she was threatened with a suspension for hugging. “This just followed her,” says her mom.

The girls say that on Monday, a few days after creating the Facebook group, they were pulled into the principal’s office and made to stay in the guidance department for the day. To them, it felt like an in-school suspension, although the school board said there have been no consequences beyond the conversation with the principal, who could not be reached Tuesday.

There were some concerns that a public invitation for a “hug in” at a middle school could pose safety issues. Students participating will hug indoors, and everyone else on the sidewalk, outside the school. Police are being invited as well, according to the girls.

“I just really think it’s an important cause,” says Lily. “And no matter what the age group, we should all be allowed to express our opinion, and our hugs.”

Last year’s ban on balls at Earl Beatty Public School, in the city’s east end, garnered international media attention (including a mention on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” segment). The rule was later amended to allow tennis balls, but students still have to seek permission to play with football and soccer balls.

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