Qld govt plan unclear on boarding schools

Marty Silk |

An independent schools body in Queensland is concerned entire boarding schools could be ordered into quarantine as COVID-19 close contacts under the state’s back-to-school plan.

Under the state government’s plan, face masks will be mandatory for all high school students and staff and provided and strongly recommended for students in years three-to-six when classes return on February 7.

Schools must ensure adequate ventilation by opening classroom windows and doors, relocating classes outdoors or providing mechanical ventilation.

Independent Schools Queensland chief executive Christopher Mountford backs the plan, but has called for more details about quarantine and isolation rules, particularly for boarding schools.

“So if you think about a boarding facility with … lots of students living together – the way that the close contact rules would work at the moment, we might see whole boarding school facilities considered close contacts, and you might see some students therefore quarantine for a long period of time,” he told ABC Radio on Monday. 

“The state government is very much aware of this issue, and they’re working through at the moment to find some more reasonable and practical solutions for boarding schools to ensure we don’t see those boarding students in quarantine for an unnecessary period of time.”

For the first four weeks of term, the government will also provide rapid antigen tests to schools while students and staff will have priority access to tests at Queensland Health clinics.

Mr Mountford said schools, particularly boarding facilities, expect the RATs to be delivered this week so they they’re at schools and ready to roll out from February 7.

The state will also provide RATs to staff entering remote communities and all school camps, excursions, assemblies, and large gatherings will be suspended.

The Independent Schools Queensland boss also said it was possible that some schools may still have to close due to COVID-19 outbreaks in coming months.

He said the pandemic remains unpredictable and staff shortages could lead to temporary shutdowns, more likely at a local level.

“That would be of last resort, it would be something that everyone would be working very hard to avoid,” Mr Mountford said.

“But we do need to realise, I think, that over the next few months it’s going to be a challenging period for schools, It’s not going to be easy and smooth, and some of those things might come up.”

As schools prepare to return, Queensland recorded another 13 virus deaths and 8580 new cases on Sunday.

The number of COVID-19 patients being treated in hospital wards fell to 745 on Sunday, from 833 on Saturday.

The number of intensive care patients also dropped to 41 on Sunday, from 53.

The state’s double dose vaccination rate is inching toward 90 per cent and currently sits at 89.49 per cent of eligible people aged 16 and over.