NSW-ACT boarders can now return home without isolating on return to Queensland

Fairholme College student Jane Newnham, centre, and her brothers Harry and Jack, Myall Creek, are among the NSW boarding school students granted an exemption to return to Queensland following the upcoming school holidays.
Fairholme College student Jane Newnham, centre, and her brothers Harry and Jack, Myall Creek, are among the NSW boarding school students granted an exemption to return to Queensland following the upcoming school holidays.

After weeks of mounting concern, interstate boarding school students and their families have received the news they'd been hoping for - that they will be exempt from being made to quarantine when they return for the final term of school in Queensland.

A notice from Queensland's Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young was posted by Barwon MP Roy Butler on his Facebook page on Tuesday afternoon, detailing Dr Young's decision.

Similar news was shared by Toowoomba's Fairholme College and principal Linda Evans, who has advocated tirelessly for the exemption, said it gave her an overwhelming feeling of relief.

"I am relieved for our girls, for their families and for all 491 NSW boarders who are an integral part of our Queensland boarding schools," Dr Evans said.

"I am grateful that their voices have been heard and that their stories have had weight and found impact.

"Most of all, I am relieved that no school student will have to endure solitary confinement in the form of two weeks of quarantine, in a boarding house."

Ten days earlier Dr Young had refused the proposal put to her by representatives of Independent Schools Queensland, Catholic Education and the Isolated Children's Parents' Association, for families in areas with no active cases or history of transmission to be able to bring their children home and then return them after the holiday without quarantining.

That refusal was subsequently decribed as a "mental health issue ready to explode" by Fairholme's Dr Evans.

According to Dr Young's notice on Tuesday, primary and secondary boarding school students with a primary place of residence in either the ACT or NSW local government areas with no active cases of COVID-19 are classed as exempt.

The exemption comes with a number of clauses relating to direct road travel to and from school and not leaving the place of residence for the entire holiday period.

According to a Queensland Health spokesperson, students returning to Queensland will have to undertake a COVID-19 test.

Students traveling by air from built-up areas and from anywhere in Victoria are still required to quarantine on arrival in Queensland, either at their boarding school if there is enough space for them to be isolated from other students, or in hotel quarantine with a parent or guardian.

Queensland ICPA president Tammie Irons said her councillors were ecstatic for families that could now be together for the holidays without penalty, and for the schools that had been trying to plan for the possibility of quarantining dozens of students.

The extension of Queensland's strict border bubble to include Moree following a fire that razed three essential businesses in the border community of Mungindi made it possible for 77 NSW students to return from holidays without quarantining.

In the wake of that news, Dr Evans thanked Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Dr Young but said the joy experienced for the Moree girls had been "overshadowed by the pain we saw on the faces of those who still can't go home and come back without isolating".

Ms Irons said everyone had had a rough year but Year 12 students had had it especially tough.

"It was so important for them to have this news before their exams," she said.

"Our proposal centred around the fact that these kids already self-isolate, this is not a hardship for them.

"I'm sure ICPA members will respect the conditions laid out, and if they have to sign something, they will."

For ICPA NSW state president Claire Butler, the news had come at exactly the right time, ensuring certainty and clarity for families as the school holidays approach.

"This announcement is a huge relief to our parents and their children," she said. "We understand caution with the current pandemic, but these children never posed a threat to health in the first place and we are very pleased their education will now continue without unnecessary disruption and anxiety."

Ms Irons said that at this stage, this exemption did not include the 30-plus Queenslanders at schools in Armidale and further afield, nor the many Queensland tertiary students studying at the University of New England in Armidale, and other places.

"We have already had families ringing about that," she said. "All I can say is, with these exemptions, there may be room to move."

ICPA is calling for a collaborative, nationally consistent and long-term approach to be applied during ongoing situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic so that families are not faced with continued uncertainty and anxiety around educating their children.

Federal ICPA president Alana Moller said they were requesting that a Pandemic Advisory Group made up of government and representatives from ICPA as well as other relevant organisations such as the Australian Boarding School Association be established to work on this approach.

"Providing long-term, nationally-consistent guidelines for families whose students must traverse state borders to access an equitable education is essential to ensure that the uncertainty that has arisen for families during the COVID-19 pandemic are not repeated in the future, and ICPA would welcome the opportunity to be a key stakeholder in such a group," she said.

This story NSW-ACT boarders granted quarantine exemption in Queensland first appeared on Queensland Country Life.