Boarders overcome border barrier bungles

#bringourboardersback social media tag highlights government inertia

Coronavirus
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Nowhere was the inequity that rural and remote residents deal with expressed more clearly this year than in the education field.

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 Burren Junction's James Slack-Smith was one of hundreds of NSW boarding students in Queensland faced with not returning home until the end of the year.

Burren Junction's James Slack-Smith was one of hundreds of NSW boarding students in Queensland faced with not returning home until the end of the year.

Nowhere was the inequity that rural and remote residents deal with expressed more clearly this year than in the education field.

When secondary students around Australia spent term two doing their schooling from home as part of the national lockdown aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19, for many it was a reassuring return to the distance education they'd experienced all their primary schooling years.

While they took that in their stride on the understanding that everyone was in the same boat, the first rumblings of concern burbled towards the end of the term when clarification was sought on the protocols developed to manage the return of students to boarding schools, thanks to regional interpretations that began causing confusion.

Queensland's Chief Medical Officer Jeannette Young was initially thanked for clearing up the uncertainty with an information release, but the Isolated Children's Parents' Association state council was inundated at the start of term three when boarding families found rules were being enforced on their children that day students didn't need to observe.

Not all schools had the facilities to fully open their boarding sections under the risk management protocols, and they were also interpreted differently by different education regions.

One of the most incongruous divisions was when boarding students were able to interact with their cohort during school hours but after 3.30pm that equality and freedom ceased.

The frustration boiled over when state government limits on large public gatherings were ignored and an estimated 30,000 people gathered in Brisbane for the Black Lives Matters rally.

"Until that point, our people got that it was a health issue; they were on board with that," then-ICPA Qld president Tammie Irons said. "But what happened on Saturday made them so angry."

Also trying to bring sense to the situation was the Australian Boarding Schools Association, which said one-third of the country's 23,000 boarders had been affected by the restrictions.

"Given the vast majority of those are in Queensland and NSW, we are talking about thousands of students here," CEO Richard Stokes said.

At one point in June neither Queensland's health or education departments wanted responsibility for managing the difficult situation, but a concerted two-week #bringourboardersback campaign for certainty for boarding students facing a continued shut-out from their schools, plus a 145-person-strong virtual rally met with success.

Unfortunately that wasn't the final battle.

Nine south east Queensland school principals made an urgent joint appeal to the state government as the term three holidays approached and it became apparent that border restrictions were either going to see teenage students from NSW kept at school, or not able to return without solitary confinement.

As well as raising concerns for the mental health of those involved, the threat to the region's economy of losing thousands of boarding students to schools in other states was raised.

"We don't treat prisoners this way," is how Fairholme College principal Linda Evans described the harshness of the decisions.

In the end it was a shocking fire that razed three businesses in Moree and allowed Queensland's border bubble to be extended that wedged the door open to quarantine exemptions.

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