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Border wars: Mum lashes Premier as boarding students trapped at school over holidays

2 weeks ago 7

An 11-year-old boy is facing the prospect of being stuck at school until the Christmas holidays because of harsh state border closures.

Justine McNally’s son Henry attends boarding school in Queensland, while the family lives in Moree in regional NSW.

Usually, Henry would return home for the upcoming spring holidays, but Queensland’s Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s hard border closures have made that impossible, leaving his family feeling like “second class citizens”.

“Just because their parents live in NSW, why are they being treated like second class citizens?” Ms McNally said.

“I think it’s a form of xenophobia. Xenophobia is a form of hatred against other people and her (Ms Palaszczuk’s) language and the deputy’s language is divisive.”

Under current restrictions set by the Queensland government, all of NSW has been declared a hot spot. For Henry to return to his home in Moree he would have to self-isolate for two weeks in a quarantine hotel at a cost to his family before he’d be able to return to school.

“I think there is a perception that regional students should take what they can get,” Ms McNally said.

“It’s a bit like geographical narcissism. I think this is a bit of an example of that. It’s like we don’t have the right to have the choice around education.

“That’s an affront to rural and regional people. There are a lot of really educated people who live in the country.

“We are really marginalised in a lot of ways and it’s like education has become another part of that.”

The Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association (ICPA) met with Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young last week with a proposal to exempt boarders, but said the health chief “wasn’t open to any exemptions” at that stage.

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Ms McNally said the last time she saw her son was in early August when she and her husband James Maunder went to visit the school.

She said Henry recently asked if he could return home, and she had to tell him he couldn’t.

“Children don’t say a lot which makes it difficult but last Friday he asked if he could come home and we had to say ‘You can’t’.

“He can’t leave that postcode. If he is in the bubble postcode, he can’t come home with us.”

Ms McNally said she felt it was important for boarding school children to be able to go home during the holidays.

“When you have your holiday time it’s like that complete release where you don’t have to be constrained with your emotions and you can be free and have an argument with someone without getting in trouble for it,” she said.

The mum said she wanted a more robust online system for people who wanted exemptions.

“It’s got to be based on probability,” Ms McNally said.

“We need it in place for 2021 and beyond. It’s not going to go away the day the vaccine arrives.”

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Tammie Irons, president of the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association Queensland said the issue arose about a fortnight ago and is affecting boarder students across the county. She said students studying and trying to travel between NSW and QLD were of particular concern.

“We’ve got members at boarding schools in NSW, and also at university in Armidale at UNE and they can’t come home,” Ms Irons said.

“Only the border bubble students can be brought directly back to school without quarantine.”

She said Queensland’s chief health officer Dr Jeanette Young had allowed for boarding school students to complete their quarantine at their boarding schools – but none of the schools had the facilities to do this.

It means that any boarding school or university student who wants to travel to their home interstate over the holidays will have to quarantine at a hotel at their own expense.

“The majority of these children are staying on isolated farm properties,” she said.

“They’re devastated. The kids and the parents, some of these kids are 11. Even the years 12s (are upset).

“It’s already been 10 weeks, the potential (is) they might not see their parents until Christmas. It’s pretty tough.”

Ms Irons said the border restrictions are hard on kids who have trouble understanding why they can’t go home.

“I mean, none of us understand but its harder for a child,” she said.

She said there had been cases where children had been injured or become unwell, and parents interstate had not been able to visit.

“It’s not the intention when parents send their kids away they won’t see their parents,” Ms Irons added. “The kids are here because there are no schools nearby.”

The Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been pushing for a new strategy that would implement rules around what defines a “hot spot”. The proposal would open the door for state borders to be eased by Christmas.

The new proposal put together by the AHPPC would define a metro area a hot spot if it reported 30 or more COVID-19 cases over three days.

Regional areas would be defined as a hot spot if they reported nine cases over a three-day period.

Mr Morrison said on Friday he’d secured support to put together a road map out of border closures by seven out of eight states and territories. Western Australia remained a hold out, saying if the state reopened “too soon it could be deadly, and there would be economic devastation”.

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