HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [10.05 pm]: I want to say a few more words about a matter on which I asked a question of the Minister for Education and Training today—that is, the issue of what is happening with our rural boarding schools. I thank the minister for the answer to the question and also thank her office, which has been speaking to my office on this matter once it was brought to my attention by a parent whose children attend boarding school in Perth. I think it goes to the depth of feeling of people who are affected by this that when that parent posted about this issue, it was shared very rapidly—nearly 350 times. That clearly reflects the concerns of many rural families who are sending their children to boarding school. Obviously, we are in the process of, hopefully, starting to slowly, very carefully and cautiously reopen the state in response to COVID-19. I recognise that we are trying to get the balance right between trying to ensure that we go back to normal while at the same time not undoing all the good work that has been done to try to make sure that COVID-19 does not run rampant throughout this community. I recognise it is always a really careful balancing act.
I of course welcome the reopening of school boarding facilities and appreciate the many measures that have had to be put in place to make sure that we are best protecting the public from COVID-19. However, it has been a source of distress for many parents that they have had to sign a form to say that they agree not to see their child or children all term and acknowledge that their child’s place in the boarding facility might be jeopardised if they do not agree to comply with these actions. I note that schools can follow the guidance of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which has certainly discouraged face-to-face contact but without totally banning visits. I think it is important that we remember that some of the children we are talking about are as young as 11 years old. I think even 17-year-olds who are doing their ATAR need to have support as well. They are all children and they need to have access to family support. Even at the best of times, it would be a significant ask to have a parent sign an agreement that they are not going to see their children. As I said, we are not living in the best of times; we are living with increased stress levels because of the uncertainty that COVID-19 has created within our community and our families. I am concerned that we have not quite got the balance right around this issue, because I am not sure that the welfare of children and their families has necessarily been taken into account, particularly with the concern that people could lose their place in the boarding school if they breach those face-to-face measures.
I note that the measures are going to be reviewed this week. I also note that in answer to the question I asked today, the minister indicated that the Department of Education met yesterday with a range of stakeholders, including the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association and the Western Australian Council of State School Organisations. I am pleased about that. I also thank the minister’s office for the information I have been receiving on this matter. I think it is going to be really important that we try to move rapidly to get the balance right. What particularly got me was the knowledge of just how young some of these children are and the concern about what the next few months is going to mean for them if they are not able to have confidence that they will be able to see their parents regularly. I am hoping that the minister is going to feel confident soon, based obviously on the best health advice, to instruct all schools, including the agricultural and residential colleges, to allow children to see their parents and also to go home during the term if they need to. I also recognise some of that will be contingent on what happens with the lifting of the intrastate borders. These are, indeed, challenging times. I just hope that we will be able to get some progress on this issue sooner rather than later.