NSW Nationals federal Regional Education Minister Andrew Gee has called on state and territory governments to come to the table to map out a COVID-safe pathway for interstate boarding school students to get home for the upcoming holidays and then back to school again.
Interstate boarding school students who wish to travel home face a number of challenges, such as the requirement of some states and territories to undertake excessive, indirect travel through a major capital city airport to get home. Many of these students are also forced to self-isolate at their own expense in hotel or commercial accommodation before returning to school.
“Our boarding school students have been doing it tough this year, with the drought, bushfires, and now the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting both their home and school environment,” Mr Gee said.
“In these challenges times, it is crucial that we continue to support mental health and wellbeing.
“The mental health impacts of COVID-19 have been debilitating for our young people. States and territories shouldn’t be burdening them with yet another layer of stress and anxiety by making it more difficult to get to school and back home again.
“For many students, the school holidays are a chance to relax and unwind in the comfort of their own homes.
“Students should not be required to take an indirect route home, via a capital city or major airport. Not only does this increase the financial burden on students and their families, it also puts them at a greater risk as our cities are more likely to be COVID-19 hotspots.
“Boarding schools are vital education institutions and for many people from rural and remote areas and Indigenous students, they are a necessity not a luxury. The tyranny of distance often means that there just aren’t any local schools regional students can travel to on a daily basis.
“That is why I am working closely with state and territory governments, and organisations such as the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association (ICPA) to develop practical, compassionate solutions to border restriction issues.
“I have advocated for a common sense approach, based on medical advice, with my state and territory colleagues at the Education Council.
“I have also written to state and territory Premiers and Chief Ministers asking them to consider the impact border restrictions are having on students being unable to travel freely between jurisdictions to continue their studies.
“There is goodwill amongst all levels of government to address the unique challenges boarding school students face when it comes to travel and quarantine, with options such as statutory declarations, COVID-19 testing, and limiting student movements while at home on the table for discussion.
“Simply put, we want each and every student to continue to have access to education whilst also maintaining connections with family and friends.
“Many boarding school students come from isolated and remote locations across Australia that are COVID-19 free. With practical COVID-safe rules in place, these children should be able to isolate in their own homes before returning to school without posing a risk to the broader community.
“I look forward to working with my state and territory counterparts to develop a compassionate pathway forward that looks after the health and wellbeing of the community at large – and the health and wellbeing of our boarding school students and their families.”