As Year 12 students return this week for the final leg of their school education, some boarders at Canberra Girls Grammar School have had to go into two weeks of isolation and quarantine.
The eight girls are from outside the Canberra border bubble and while the National Code for Boarding School Students allows students to cross borders, the ACT Government would not be moved on the need to quarantine.
Girls Grammar had been negotiating with the government for weeks but only received a decision on Sunday, sending an email to parents at 5:18 pm.
The late notice infuriated the parents of Georgina Wallace, Tony and Annabelle, who live on a property near Young, just outside the border bubble.
Tony said Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith may be following the letter of the law but said she was eroding the intent of the national code, which also talks about the mental wellbeing of a vulnerable group.
He said the decision defied logic and lacked empathy.
Annabelle said the girls are all due to take their AST Scaling Test on Tuesday, 12 October, and Wednesday, 13 October and were disadvantaged by not taking their place in the classroom.
She feared for their state of mind. One girl already said in an online chat that she would “lose it” if she had to stay locked up in a small room for two weeks.
“This is an anomaly where you have a bubble where her friend who she can mix with over the holidays can go back [to class], but they’ve got to say goodbye at the boarding house door. One can go to a room [to quarantine], the other one can go to school,” Tony said.
The girls were tested for COVID before returning to the ACT and Georgina has been fully vaccinated.
“The people who are attending school are far more likely to have COVID than those who are locked up,” Tony said.
He said if they had been given earlier notice, other arrangements could have been made so Georgina could have quarantined before the start of term.
Ms Stephen-Smith said she was surprised that people were not aware of the ACT’s travel rules, which had been in place since lockdown began.
She said the ACT supported the national code but it did not exempt people from quarantine.
“The team is working closely with Girls Grammar to ensure the girls can quarantine safely,” she said, including being able to leave to sit their exams.
Ms Stephen-Smith said that areas in NSW were still moving in and out of lockdown as new cases emerged.
Girls Grammar principal Anna Owen confirmed that the government notice came on Sunday but was not critical, given the pressures of the pandemic.
She was glad that after lengthy discussions, the government had allowed the girls to quarantine in a familiar place and not in a hotel.
“I’m not saying this is in any way the best way to have young people quarantine. The reality is we are in a global pandemic … and I’m really glad that they are here in an environment that is familiar to them,” she said.
“It’s very unfortunate. I do feel for this year’s Year 12s. It’s been a very tricky 18 months.”
Ms Owen said the girls were being given wellbeing activities and counselling, exercise opportunities, access to a courtyard for fresh air and sunshine, academic support, and access to the same lessons and remote learning as other students, as well as supplies delivered to their rooms.