ICPA welcomes Qld Health boarding school COVID guide

Chief Medical Officer outlines COVID boarding school protocols

Coronavirus
A number of risk management procedures have been put in place at boarding schools that are re-opening.

A number of risk management procedures have been put in place at boarding schools that are re-opening.

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The Isolated Children's Parents' Association has welcomed a letter from Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young that sets out the protocols developed to manage the return of students to boarding schools.

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The Isolated Children's Parents' Association has welcomed a letter from Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young that sets out the protocols developed to manage the return of students to boarding schools.

Regional interpretations on what constitutes a dormitory were among the items that have been causing confusion among Queensland's boarding community trying to understand whether they were able to return their children to school.

At the beginning of May, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee released a statement about risk management for re-opening boarding schools and school-based residential colleges, advising on ways to reduce the potential risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools.

On the topic of sleeping arrangements, it states that if there is "no option but to keep dormitory accommodation, then significant reduction on normal occupancy to 25 per cent of usual level" must take place.

Australian Boarding Schools Association CEO Richard Stokes said some regional education units were being particularly pedantic and old-fashioned in their understanding of what constituted a dormitory.

"Some are thinking of the big open rooms of the old days, whereas now they're divided into smaller, more private rooms," he said.

"Metro North is calling that a dorm whereas Toowoomba is calling the same thing separate rooms.

"It's not OK at the Gold Coast but it is at Townsville."

Mr Stokes said the confusion was causing grief to already-stressed parents, some of whom had sons at one school and daughters at another, with two different interpretations.

The organisation has been working closely with the Isolated Children's Parents' Association at federal and state levels to try and bring some form of standardisation and clarity, and this is ongoing.

Queensland ICPA vice president Louise Martin said Thursday's information release from Chief Medical Officer Jeannette Young would go a long way toward clearing up other uncertainty in the boarding community.

"There was a period of real unrest when some schools re-opened to boarders and others didn't," she said. "The letter that's been put together shows this is health advice that schools have to conform to."

According to the letter, available on the Queensland ICPA Facebook page, boarding schools and school-based residential colleges are required to develop a COVID-19 risk management plan for review and feedback by their local Public Health Unit prior to re-opening.

Some schools, such as Stuartholme School where her daughters are in Year 9, have been unable to accommodate a full complement of boarders because of the AHPPC directive for a preference for individual use of bathrooms/toilets.

Ms Martin said they weren't taking boarders from Years 7-10, except for siblings, dependent on numbers.

"Some Year 11 and 12 students have decided to be day scholars too, but that's an individual decision," she said.

Parents were also choosing not to return their children to schools that were able to open to all boarders, partly because of the timing with the end of term two, and others because of concerns around managing possible future lockdowns.

"The distance factor is at play," Ms Martin said.

"It doesn't make economic sense for some, and some want to play it safe.

"They're sincerely hopeful all boarding students will be able to start at the beginning of term three though."

Mr Stokes said it was important to understand that despite the statement by Education Minister Grace Grace that all students were now back at school, that wasn't the case for boarding schools, because of the rules put in place.

The concern was that online learning opportunities would drop now that most students were back at school, he said, adding that schools would find it hard to teach both face-to-face and online equally well.

According to Ms Martin, if a family had chosen to keep their child at home, a school may not be able to guarantee the same educational experience for them.

"Stuartholme is endeavouring to make every effort for our girls, because there's no other choice for them.

"Schools who are unable to accommodate all their boarders are still providing the best level of education they can."

On the area of crossing state borders to return students to school, Mr Stokes said Queensland's Chief Medical Officer had given an exemption for that to happen, and for parents to take them to school, as long as they weren't coming from a hot spot.

A variety of exemptions have been made to the 14-day self-quarantine rule, including for any boarder travelling to Queensland from the Northern Territory, who had been in the NT for 14 days before entering Queensland.

Any boarder living within a border community, approximately 200km from NSW, South Australian or NT borders is also exempt, providing they've had no contact with known or suspected COVID-19 cases in the preceding 14 days.

Term three speculation

Louise Martin said families with children still at home were resigned to seeing the term out but looking forward to having them start at school in term three.

"There's still a level of uncertainty around term three but I've quickly learnt not to speculate - it's fruitless in the current environment," she said. "I know our school is missing the girls terribly and desperately want to have the whole boarding family back, because it's an integral part of the school."

Outlining the difficulties facing boarding school managers, she said a consistency of care was an important factor and schools had built up strong levels of rapport with their boarder families, and put a lot into skilling staff to create a home away from home.

"If students can't go back next term, some will have to seriously consider how many staff they can continue to support," she said.

The story ICPA welcomes Qld Health boarding school COVID guide first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

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