A set of principles regarding boarding students' capacity to travel to and from school, endorsed by National Cabinet, has been embraced by remote families affected by pandemic restrictions.
Boarders at Ballarat's three boarding schools - Ballarat Clarendon College, St Patrick's College, and Ballarat Grammar School - have been frequently placed in difficult situations, and frustrated, by border closures over the last two years.
The National Code for Boarding School Students will allow travel for boarders and their families to become easier. The code outlines principles, based on common sense and which are COVID-safe, which the states and territories should follow to establish travel arrangements.
The aim is to help students and their families navigate border restrictions and enable students to plan their travel to return home during term time and for school holidays.
One person fully aware of the issues which have been faced by hundreds of young people in recent times is Eliza Moorhouse from Naracoorte, South Australia. Miss Moorhouse completed her four years as a boarder in Ballarat in 2020 and believes reform is necessary.
"Understanding from the governments (is needed)," Miss Moorhouse said. "(Last year) mum had to apply for an exemption for me (to travel home) on compassionate grounds which was initially denied. Obviously, it's a pretty extreme situation when a kid can't get home to their family. There didn't seem to be any understanding for boarding students. There wasn't any acknowledgement for boarding families."
Kalani Scoullar, whose family resides in Barham, New South Wales, has boarded in Ballarat for the last two years. Miss Scoullar also feels change is required.
"The border closures, not being able to go home, has been really tough," Miss Scoullar said. "It's very hard because you don't want people spreading (COVID). On the other hand, you just want to be able to travel freely. Because I lived only 500 metres over the border, and on some days I can't get across, it's like 'What? How?'"
The code makes it clear adherence to the public health restrictions remains paramount, but it also states the continued education of students at boarding school, as well as the maintenance of their wellbeing and mental health, need to be actively supported within those constraints. Additionally, students must be able to transfer effectively and efficiently between home and school while jurisdictions have border restrictions in place to minimise the spread of COVID-19.
The three guiding principles to be followed by states and territories include:
- Boarding school students are a vulnerable cohort and need support
- Boarding school students need to move efficiently and effectively between their schools and homes
- Consistent and high quality communication between states and territories and families is essential to support the movement of students, their health, and their wellbeing
Miss Moorhouse's mother, Caroline, acknowledges modification is essential to improve life for boarding families in the COVID era.
"Dealing with two governments has been really difficult," Mrs Moorhouse said. "There have been something like 43 or 44 changes to border restrictions (between South Australia and Victoria) since the start of the pandemic. You have to be so across the news all the time and the implementation is not always good."
Senator Bridget McKenzie, minister for regional education, has urged all jurisdictions to implement arrangements as soon as possible.
"I want to thank the states and territories for helping end the isolation and uncertainty being experienced," Senator McKenzie said. "While border closures and intrastate travel restrictions have helped contain the spread of COVID-19, it has unintentionally left some boarding students isolated and unable to receive the support and care of family."
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The consequences of strict border controls have added to difficulties already linked to online learning and a lack of physical and emotional outlets for young people.
"Last year was really hard because I had nowhere to go," Miss Scoullar said. "I went home during the second big lockdown and I had to isolate for two weeks to get into New South Wales. I went home and isolated in a caravan outside my house. On the twelfth day, I went and got a test and, when that came back negative, I was allowed to go into the community again."
Miss Moorhouse had also been significantly affected by border closures.
"The South Australian border completely shut to Victoria," Miss Moorhouse recalled. "My dad had an essential worker permit so he could go back and forwards between South Australia and Victoria. Picking up your children from school wasn't part of the permit."
Once home, difficulties remained for Miss Moorhouse.
"I was in quarantine quite often. The situation was so ridiculous," Miss Moorhouse said. "I was in quarantine here and then I had to wait to get out of quarantine so I could go to Robe because the internet was so bad here."
Parents have been emotionally affected by boarder closures as well.
"Last year, when Richie and Eliza got stuck in Victoria, it was a horrible time. It was quite brutal," Mrs Moorhouse said. "It's very strange to be told you can't get your kids. It's something that you always take for granted. When you send your kids to boarding school interstate, we've always been able to cross the border. It's been a strange time for everyone, but the border rules have been difficult."
The wishes of boarders and their families have been heard by Senator McKenzie.
"(This) decision is a win for common-sense," Senator McKenzie said. "The national code takes a clear, compassionate, and practical approach to supporting the travel needs of boarding school students."
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