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Outback Queensland boarding school students face long journey home if COVID positive

Joey McClemont’s two kids have spent the past week packing up and getting ready for the long trip back to boarding school this weekend.

The family lives on a property 100km from Longreach in the western Queensland outback.

It takes two days to travel to Toowoomba, where her two daughters go to high school as boarding students.

“There’s a little bit of work — sorting out the clothes, the textbooks, deciding what to take and what to leave,” McClemont said.

Joy McClemont says she’s worried about sending her daughters to school.(supplied)

This weekend, families boarding from across the regional state of Queensland will hit the road and hop on board, before returning to school on Monday.

But for some remote families, like Joy McClymont, the possibility of a long trip home if a student tests positive for COVID-19 remains very real.

“I’m a little worried that something is going to happen, because anybody would be as a parent,” McClemont said.

New close contact rules are welcomed

Earlier this week, major boarding school groups and Queensland Health held an 11-hour meeting to update guidance for boarding school students.

Under the new advice, close contacts in boarding homes will now be defined as anyone sleeping on either side of a positive case, rather than entire boarding rooms.

Boarding house employees will also be considered critical workers and allowed to work, as long as they continue to test negative.

Richard Stokes, chief executive of the Australian Boarding Schools Association, said the clarification was a “step in the right direction” ahead of school starting next week.

“Our kids have been back in boarding schools for a week. That was probably the biggest disappointment.”

sunset over the farm
Many students live too far away to be able to go home in the event of the coronavirus outbreak.(supplied)

Louise Martin of the Queensland chapter of Parents of Isolated Children welcomed the updated advice to resident students but said the risk of an outbreak remained “very real”.

“There is a lot of anxiety within families and staff with Omicron reaching its peak right now,” she said.

“You have a lot of children living in it [boarding] Houses nearby. Only time will tell how that will happen.”

Ms Martin said that under the new guidance, whether a student was sent home or allowed to quarantine on campus, if positive, will be determined between parents and schools.

“If the parent lives within a reasonable distance from the school, they are welcome to come and pick up their child,” she said.

Remote families take it ‘step by step’

Girl in pink shirt and jeans riding a horse in the outback
New South Wales student Robbie Bradshaw faces a long trip home from Townsville in the event of the coronavirus outbreak.(supplied)

Joy McClemont, Longreach’s mother, said most parents who live in remote areas don’t have the time or resources to travel long distances to collect children if necessary.

She is still hesitant about whether she would bring her daughters home if either of them contracted COVID-19 while at school.

“It will depend on the situation,” McClemont said.

“I just take it step by step.”

New South Wales mother Kate Bradshaw faces a similar dilemma when she sends her daughter Ruby to boarding school in Townsville.

“I am a little concerned about how many students they will actually be able to isolate if there is an outbreak,” she said.

“It can all happen very quickly.”

Ms Bradshaw said her daughter was excited to get back to face-to-face learning after spending her first two weeks online.

“She’s eager to get back to see her teammates, get back into the sport, see her teachers, and stick to a proper routine,” she said.

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