The Southern Cross The Southern Cross

Read the latest edition. Latest edition

Forgotten faces of COVID in schools


The start of the school year has been accompanied by impassioned pleas from several groups for urgent changes to the rules affecting students in boarding houses impacted by COVID.

Comments Print article

Current SA Health advice deems boarding schools to be high risk, and all boarders within a cohorting group are considered ‘household contacts’ of a positive case in the boarding house. SA Health adds that students who are close contacts should preferably be taken home to quarantine, not by public transport, or kept in isolation at school.

This means that since the start of Term 1 some boarders at Catholic schools have been sent home to quarantine, with their parents travelling long distances to collect them.

Catholic Education SA (CESA) and the Association of Independent Schools of SA have made a joint appeal to the State Government and chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier to make the definition of a ‘close contact’ more workable.

CESA director Dr Neil McGoran said the issue needed to be managed in a more practical way than simply quarantining all boarders.

Catholic School Parents SA (CSPSA) said the current direction is placing students and their families under ‘considerable stress’.

‘Of most concern for parents and caregivers is the impact this is having on students’ learning, and the potential of ongoing impacts should multiple isolations be required,’ a CSPSA statement said.

‘Whilst it is understood that directions are provided for the health and safety of the boarders and staff, the implementation of the procedures is impractical.

‘In multiple cases, parents have travelled significant kilometres for their children to attend school, some travelling a round trip of 20 hours, only to be called immediately to come back to collect their child to isolate at home. The prospect that this isolation process may continue is untenable.’

Year 12 boarding house leaders at Sacred Heart College have also weighed into the debate, providing the students’ perspective. In an open letter Mel Makin, Brad Hayes, Demi Lovelock and Charlie Jones wrote:

To whom it may concern, given the recent media attention on the impact of COVID in boarding schools, we thought it was important to convey the perspectives of those of us experiencing this on an everyday basis in our home away from home – boarding school.

As a SHC boarding family, we are very close with all of our boarding peers and the advice that has been put forward by SA Health has meant that our boarding experience over the last few weeks has been very different to what a boarding experience should be.

Being treated as a high risk residential facility has definitely presented its challenges for us teenagers. What has been particularly difficult is the ‘cohorting’ of groups of boarders, meaning that we are unable to mingle with our friends and siblings that are in other cohorts or year levels. This has been particularly challenging as we are unable to associate with those we normally would on a day to day basis as has been the case in our previous years in the SHC Boarding House.

Of course, the wearing of masks in our home away from home has also been a difficult adjustment for us, especially given we are required to wear these during the day at school as well. Whilst the day students can go home and be mask free, we go to our home and are still required to wear masks wherever we go. Due to COVID as well, all of our meals have been converted to single serve takeaway style meals that we are required to eat outdoors, which has been an interesting adjustment also. This not only impacts us and we can only imagine how much extra work this is creating for our amazing kitchen staff who take great pride in their work and now have to pre-package all of our meals and deliver to the separate boarding houses.

As with every year, we have a number of new boarders joining our boarding family this year and we have been unable to welcome them as we normally would, with special events and even new boarder get-to-know-you activities needing to be put on hold. In the past, these have been extremely effective with finding connections with new people from similar regions, building relationships and also discovering what we have in common with one another. As Year 12 leaders, we had planned some great initiatives to help make everyone feel welcome and to continue to build a positive culture within our boarding community and although we are still keen to implement these, it is really difficult to do so with the restrictions that are in place and the inability for us to engage with other cohorts.

Acting on SA Health advice, our leave has had to be heavily restricted and although we are very grateful that SHC are doing all they can to engage us in activities and recreation outdoors, it is a far different experience than what boarding has been in previous years. We are also thankful that our wellbeing is closely monitored and we are doing our best to work with the school staff to make our own fun, whilst also ensuring that everyone is kept safe.

Following on from this, we are currently required to do surveillance RAT testing three times a week which is quite unpleasant and stressful and heavily inconveniences our everyday routine, which has already been completely turned on its head with the current COVID restrictions. The 15 minutes seems endless every single time as we nervously await our results and those of others in our cohort. It never gets easier, despite how many times we do this.

We are extremely grateful to our teachers who have supported us with online and face-to-face learning in recent weeks. Their job does not get any easier, nor does ours, when we are forced to be sent home and need to try and learn remotely if deemed to be COVID positive or a household close contact. For us in the most important year of our schooling, we are at a significant disadvantage because of these requirements and being from the country, it is not always a simple thing to work from home and remain connected.

Finally, the greatest challenge that we all face, especially our parents, is the uncertainty around when we may be sent home as a household close contact if someone in our cohort tests positive. Although we accept that these rules are in place to keep us safe, it is hard to understand how we can be sitting next to someone in a classroom who tests positive, yet we have to do nothing if we have no symptoms. However, if we sleep in a dormitory in our boarding house with a positive case, even if their room is a single room 30 metres away, we are still classified as a household close contact and need to be urgently collected and quarantined for seven days. Many of our boarding families are interstate or over 800km away and it is incredibly difficult for them to drop their lives to collect us at short notice.

Although we are appreciative of everyone’s efforts to keep us safe, ultimately this is not what we thought boarding school would be like and we are just grateful that the staff at SHC are doing all they can to look after our wellbeing and help us keep on top of our studies, despite the significant challenges that we face.

We hope this letter provides some context behind what we are going through and how sometimes we feel like the forgotten faces of the impact of COVID in schools here in South Australia.


Show comments Hide comments
Will my comment be published? Read the guidelines.

More Local stories

Loading next article