Four community members participated in an anti-masking rally at Archie Stouffer Elementary School Jan. 31 following an alleged incident where a student was sent home after refusing to wear a mask during class.

Gerda Hammond, Denise LeBlanc, Gina Atkinson and Doug Smith said they felt compelled to attend the protest after hearing about the alleged incident on social media.

Gathering in front of the school prior to morning drop-off, the quartet handed out leaflets to parents discouraging the use of masks.

“Get the masks off our children, that’s the message we’re spreading here today,” Hammond said. “You would never put a mask on a healthy child until this pandemic … It’s not healthy. It doesn’t stop you from getting sick. Enough already.”

According to Health Canada, properly worn non-medical masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 from an infected wearer to others. They can also help prevent the wearer from being exposed to the infectious respiratory particles of others.

There was a police presence at the event, with two OPP cruisers observing from the school’s parking lot.

LeBlanc said she and Atkinson have participated in several pandemic-related rallies in recent months, including in Peterborough, Whitby, Toronto, Bracebridge and Huntsville. She noted her motivations are clear: to set an example for her family, and stand up for what she believes in.

“Right now, I believe that COVID is over. There’s absolutely no reason for any measures,” she said.

Public Health Ontario reported 3,043 new cases of COVID-19 on Jan. 31, while further data shows there are 3,091 individuals currently admitted in hospital testing positive, with 568 individuals in the ICU.

Trillium Lakelands District School Board would not comment on the alleged incident. Hammond claims the student has a medical exemption granting her permission not to wear a mask. The student’s parents could not be reached for comment.

Carolynne Bull, TLDSB manager of communications, said the board has strict policies regarding student masking.

“If a student refuses to wear a mask, they are asked to go home and/or the parents/ guardians are called to pick up their student. In the event a student is refusing to wear a mask and the parents refuse to pick the student up, CAS would then be called,” Bull said.

She clarified that any request for an exemption is evaluated by school principals in consultation with a board superintendent. For a request to be considered, it must include a medical note, medical diagnosis, or IPRC identification.

Atkinson says she hates the division the different COVID-related mandates and safety measures have created, saying she’s seen family and long-time friends turn against one another over the past two years. The pandemic has been especially difficult for her, as she’s had to watch her special needs daughter suffer after being “ostracized” from various community programs due to being unvaccinated.

“I think it’s important that we do things like this. Even if it’s just reaching one person a time… That’s why I’m here. To offer another perspective,” she said.