‘Boarding school bubble’ push as Queensland kids trapped
Exclusive: A boarding school "bubble'' to let stranded students visit their families will be debated by the nation's education ministers today.
A tearful 13-year-old schoolgirl ordered to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine is among hundreds of Australian children trapped by "cruel'' state border closures.
Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan will demand at a meeting with state and territory ministers today that a "boarding school bubble'' permit kids to visit their families during the September school holidays, and quarantine in their own homes.
Australian Boarding Schools Association chief executive Richard Stokes said yesterday Queensland was forcing returning students to quarantine alone in a room for 14 days if they return to school.
"They need to go home and see their parents but they can't even get a hug from mum,'' he said.
"(If they do leave for holidays) they will come back and live in an individual room and bathroom and be fed a meal in their room for two weeks.
"It is criminal to do that to an 11-year-old, or to a 17-year-old doing their first ATAR exam.''
Border travel bans are affecting 1614 boarding school students with families living interstate - including 816 in NSW, 109 in Victoria, 98 in Queensland, 18 in Tasmania, 50 in South Australia, 77 in Western Australia and 408 in the Northern Territory.
The chairman of the federal parliamentary committee on education, Andrew Laming, yesterday slammed the "cruel Guantanamo Bay'' treatment of teenagers.
"This verges on cruel and unusual punishment belonging in Guantanamo Bay (US military detention camp)'', he said.
"We don't know the depth of the mental health damage that's done.''
Federal Minister Regional Education Andrew Gee called on state ministers to show "compassion and common sense''.
"There is simply no reason for interstate boarding school students to be forced to spend their school holidays locked away at school, a long way from family and friends,'' he said.
"The mental health impacts can't be underestimated.''
Isolated Children and Parents' Association NSW president Claire Butler yesterday called on education ministers to treat boarding school students as "essential travellers''.
"It's really heartbreaking,'' she said.
"It's an unnatural thing for a parent not to be able to see their child.
"It's important that kids can come home on the school holidays and recharge on their property in isolation, and go back to school without quarantine restrictions.
"These kids are highly worried and anxious, and we're really concerned about their mental health.''
Queensland Health has told one Brisbane family that their 13-year-old daughter, who boards in Victoria, will have to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine if she wants to see her parents.
The girl's mother, who does not want her name published, said her daughter was feeling lonely and distraught.
"It's ridiculous, illogical and unreasonable - I've lost nights of sleep,'' the mother said.
"I have friends who haven't seen their children for seven months''.
Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeanette Young has approved an exemption request for the girl to enter Queensland as an "unaccompanied minor''.
"This exemption has been granted on the condition that (the girl) is to enter government hotel quarantine for 14 days,'' Queensland Health told the mother.
"As she is an unaccompanied minor, Dr Young has directed that a parent who can act as a guardian is to quarantine with her in the hotel.
"During mandatory quarantine, if required, (the girl) will have the opportunity to seek support from health professionals who visit the hotel facility, including mental health.''
At Brisbane's Nudgee College, Dean of Boarding Christian Oneto said boys from interstate would be billeted with other boys' families over the school holidays.
"Boys are really struggling with a deep yearning to see family and friends,'' he said.
"I don't think I've had to deal with as many mental health issues over my whole career as I have in the past two months.
"The risk of catching COVID-19 on a sheep property 600 km west is almost non-existent.''
A Queensland Health spokesman said most students could quarantine at their school "if there is enough space for them to be isolated from other students as much as possible''.
"These are difficult decisions, however these restrictions are in place for the protections of all Queenslanders,'' he said.
Originally published as 'Boarding school bubble' push as Queensland kids trapped