MONTREAL – When the Montreal Canadiens make the playoffs, it inevitably stirs up some Habs fever, and schools are no exception.
Many Montreal-area schools are holding jersey days, where students are encouraged to wear hockey sweaters to show their team pride.
But a jersey day has caused some controversy at Honoré Mercier Elementary School in the St. Leonard neighbourhood.
“Basically what happened is we have Montreal Canadiens jersey days at a lot of schools,” English Montreal School Board (EMSB) spokesperson, Michael Cohen, told Global News.
“But two students had Bruins jerseys and wanted to wear them.”
The school decided to make a call, and told the students that they couldn’t wear the jerseys until the end of the school day.
“This is the first time this has happened in our board,” said Cohen.
“The EMSB is not giving a directive. This was a local school call.”
He said that the decision was made by the teacher, who felt it was not a good idea for the children to wear Bruins hockey shirts.
“She didn’t want to put them in an awkward position where 90 per cent of the kids were wearing Canadiens’ jerseys.”
Cohen acknowledged that issues like this could be used by schools to talk about bullying, but he was concerned that the incident would have a negative impact on school policy by limiting NHL playoff excitement.
“A parent called the media to complain and the issue exploded,” he said. “It’s really overblown and out of proportion.”
Since the incident went public, the school has decided that because of the controversy, there will be no more Habs jersey days this year.
“Let’s face it, it’s a Habs town.”
Last year during the Habs-Sens playoff series, the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) faced a similar controversy when the Maple Grove Elementary School in Lachine held a jersey day.
Eleven-year-old Keila Penner was not a Habs’ fan, so she chose to wear her Sens’ jersey instead, but was asked by the school to take it off.
Chairman of the school board, Suanne Stein Day, told Global News that ultimately the experience wasn’t that positive for the student.
“It was bad news for the child, she became withdrawn,” she said.
“The policy was not changed. We never banned the child from wearing a Sens jersey. We warned her that she was going to get teased. We suggested that she may not want to do this, and we offered her a gym t-shirt.”
She said that the fallout for the teachers was horrific and unfair, as they believed they were acting in the best interests of the student.
“When I grew up, teasing took place all the time. We just took it. Now sometimes it’s called bullying.”
“Students are allowed to wear any jersey that they want but they will get teased. We tell the children not to tease them but children will be children,” Stein Day said.
“Some children take teasing differently than others. When I grew up, teasing took place all the time. We just took it. Now sometimes it’s called bullying.”
She noted that the teachers talk about teasing with the students, but said it’s a real challenge to prevent it from happening.
“We spent a lot of time this time of year talking about bullying in classrooms. But let’s face it, it’s a Habs town.”
Like the EMSB, the LBPSB does not have a board-wide policy in place for jersey days.
“We don’t ban anything, but if this kind of incident happened in our schools again, I wouldn’t be surprised if schools started banning jersey days. And that’s a shame. The kids enjoy it.”
The issue certainly isn’t a new one.
In 1979, Quebec author Roch Carrier wrote a story based on his real-life experience growing up in Sainte-Justine, Quebec in 1946.
He shared the most mortifying moment of his childhood: wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey to school on Habs jersey day.
The book has become a Canadian classic and was made into a National Film Board film called “The Hockey Sweater.”
Watch: The Hockey Sweater (1980)