There’s light at the end of the tunnel for boarding school students and their families separated by cross border travel restrictions and local lockdowns.
National Cabinet has endorsed a National Code to make it easier for students to travel not only for school holidays, but also during school terms.
In a year of uncertainty, disappointments and setbacks, it’s a breakthrough for the students, their families, communities, and for common sense. While border closures and intrastate travel restrictions have helped contain the spread of COVID-19, it has unintentionally left some boarding students isolated and anxious, away from the support and care of family, causing additional stress during what is already a difficult time.
For some students who haven’t been able to return home due to border restrictions, including some children as young as nine, it has been many months since they have last seen their families.
I have received hundreds of harrowing accounts from boarding families who have been separated for extensive periods. Stories have included a child who was rushed to hospital and a teenager left to suffer agonising mental health issues while their families were denied permission to travel across state borders to them.
We have heard of students who have, or are considering leaving school, even in years 10 or 12, because they feel they can no longer cope with the isolation and anxiety caused by being separated from their loved ones.
The Code agreed to by all states and territories recommends the implementation of a travel permit or official guidance that will allow students to be accompanied by up to two adults when travelling via the most direct route between a boarding school and home.
This will ensure COVID-safe travel in the same way as agricultural and freight workers.
Particular consideration will be given to the complexities for Indigenous boarding students and the needs of their communities.
This national approach and solution is a real tribute to the cooperative efforts of the Commonwealth, state and territory governments, that have responded with the concern and compassion the situation demands.
With Term 3 holidays already under way in some states, I hope this agreement will help support the travel needs many of the almost 1,600 students who would be crossing a state or territory border at this time to return home from boarding school.
I hope all jurisdictions now move quickly to adopt the National Code and support its rollout as soon as possible in line with the relevant health advice.