The Victorian government is under increasing pressure to issue exemptions to Victorian boarding school students trapped in New South Wales due to COVID-19 border restrictions.

Key points:

  • Senator Perin Davey says having teenage students separated from their parents due to COVID-19 border bans may be a human rights issue
  • It is estimated that up to 1,200 Australian students could be blocked from crossing state boundaries 
  • Parents are pleading with Victorian health authorities to let their children come home

A group of 10 high school students from Victoria — who board and study in southern New South Wales — are in limbo as they stay with good Samaritans, unable to return to their Riverina boarding school nor cross the Victorian border to go home.

The teenagers usually attend and board at Yanco Agricultural High School, near Leeton in southern New South Wales, and have been billeted out to friends, family and other school families while they try to find a way home.

Stay-at-home orders across New South Wales, including regional areas, have been extended until at least September 10.

Meanwhile, schools — including Yanco Agricultural High School — have shut and most students are learning from home instead, with the New South Wales government announcing students will not begin returning to classrooms until October 25.

‘No risk to Victoria’

New South Wales Cross-Border Commissioner James McTavish said the Victorian children should be allowed to go home. 

“The adjacent local government areas have no cases now and have had historically very low levels of COVID.”

However, the Victorian government will not let the students return home unless they complete two weeks of hotel quarantine in Melbourne.

Mr McTavish said the children should not have to endure hotel quarantine. 

“We think there would be a methodology which would allow these children to be picked up by their parents, in a contact-less way, and make sure that they can go home, go back to the farm, go back to their house, self-isolate for 14 days and then get back to their daily life.

Parents’ plea

Four young agriculture students dressed in hats and brightly coloured shirts lean on a farm fence.

Yanco Agricultural High School student Harriette Garner (second from left) is growing impatient and restless about being stuck in New South Wales, unable to return home to Victoria.(

Supplied: Amanda Garner

)

Harriette Garner, 17, relocated from Birregurra in Victoria’s south-west to board and study at the state-run agricultural school at Yanco.

Her mother, Amanda, wants to drive there to collect her and bring her home.

“Harriette is becoming impatient and restless, understandably, with no end or resolution to our situation,”

“I am reassuring her that we are doing everything we can to get them home as soon as we can,” Ms Garner said.

Jodie Greene from Elmhurst, north-west of Ballarat, has two children studying agriculture at Yanco — Matilda in year 9 and Jordan in year 11.

She, too, is pleading with Victorian health officials to grant her an exemption to drive to Yanco, collect her children and drive straight back, to allow them to quarantine at home on the farm.

Rolling green hills and farmland partially lit by a sunny day with a few clouds overhead

Jodie Greene wants to bring her two children home to quarantine on their farm at Elmhurst, north-west of Ballarat.(

Supplied: Jodie Greene

)

Up to 1,200 students can’t get home

The 10 Victorian Yanco students are not alone — the Isolated Children’s Parents Association estimates as many as 1,200 students who study across a state border have faced similar difficulties during the pandemic.

It is something Nationals Senator Perin Davey wants fixed, especially if COVID-19 continues to disrupt our daily lives for months to come.

She said the issue is one of human rights.

Senator Perin Davey is speaking in the Senate. She is wearing a black jacket and red shirt. She has long, straight brown hair

Senator Perin Davey is calling for a nationally consistent arrangement for boarding school students affected by school closures and border-crossing bans during the pandemic.(

ABC News: Matt Roberts

)

New South Wales Senator Perin Davey expressed concern about the teens’ plight.

“You are talking about minors,” Ms Davey said. 

The Nationals Senator said states needed to agree to a set of rules that would be put in place for children studying across borders.

“So masks, only stopping for fuel at set locations, and then [to] home or on-farm quarantine. This should be acceptable to all states.

“A vaccination needs to be discussed and needs to be on the table.”

Solution declined, department says

Mr McTavish urged the Victorian government to apply a proportionate response to what the children were going through.

A spokesperson for the Victorian Health Department said in a statement that families were offered a solution to safely repatriate their students to Victoria, which was declined.

That offer involved sending the children — some as young as 15 into hotel quarantine in Melbourne in “an area away from international arrivals”.

However, the department is yet to detail how that would be arranged.

One parent of each minor would then have to attend with their child for the duration of quarantine, free of charge.

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Teens stuck in cross-border conundrum as parents fret at home
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