Stations caught in border crossing crossfire

Stations caught in border crossing crossfire

Life & Style
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Border exemption applications for students attempting to cross the SA/NSW border to return to school on Monday, have still not been granted by SA Health despite being applied for two weeks ago.

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Willow, Sebastian and Grace Wakefield at their White Cliffs station in NSW. Grace is meant to return to Westminster School in SA on Monday but has yet to receive a border crossing exemption.

Willow, Sebastian and Grace Wakefield at their White Cliffs station in NSW. Grace is meant to return to Westminster School in SA on Monday but has yet to receive a border crossing exemption.

BORDER exemption applications for SA students attempting to cross the border from NSW to return to school on Monday have still not been granted by SA Health, despite families applying two weeks ago.

Station families are being kept in limbo by SA Health and the Department of Education, the families say, as they attempt to make plans to cross the border in time for the beginning of term three.

White Cliffs station manager Sophie Wakefield made an application on June 28 for her daughter Grace, 14, to cross the border and return to Westminster School, but had not received any correspondence until just two days ago.

SA Health contacted Ms Wakefield seeking further clarification about whether or not the family had visited any exposure sites or had any visitors to the station that may have come into contact with potential COVID-19 cases, but did not grant the exemption.

"We provided the additional information but no one is returning phone calls or emails and we we are fast running out of time.

"The buck keeps getting passed between the SA Department of Education and SA Health, in terms of who's causing the delay."

Grace arrived in Broken Hill on June 26 and has been isolated on the family's station since, and with a four-hour drive to the NSW/SA border and six hours from the checkpoint, Ms Wakefield said the strain on the family, while also preparing for shearing to begin on Monday, was impacting their mental health.

"We wake up everyday and pack the car, make fresh lunchboxes and prepare as though we are driving to the border," Ms Wakefield said.

But with hopes to receive the green light in time fading, plans for isolating in SA have been made.

"I will have to care for Grace while isolating in Adelaide - I cannot believe there are no plans in place for a 14-year-old who will have to quarantine alone," she said.

"This has put a lot of pressure on my husband and I because we have to work, it is one of our busiest times of the year."

The situation has gone "stale", Ms Wakefield says, and with station families located hundreds of kilometres from exposure sites, she deemed the stress "completely unnecessary".

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NSW Isolated Children's Parents Association councillor Bree Wakefield has called for a national framework to be formed for families with station students, to be allowed border crossings without applying for exemptions and isolating.

"Stations are isolated places so they should be allowed to return to school without all of the issues," Ms Wakefield said.

"The biggest concern for NSW station families trying to get children back into SA, is that the NSW COVID-19 situation is growing, Hay is now affected and it is only two hours away from us and other stations."

Her son Angus Hodges, 14, is also staring down the barrel of a third isolation stint since April last year.

An exemption application for his return to school at Prince Alfred College on Monday was applied for on June 23.

But Bree received correspondence from SA Health on July 1 stating it was too far from the entry date into SA to be approved at that stage.

"We knew it was a risk letting Angus come home for the holidays, so we put a plan in place, he was not allowed to leave the station and we limited any visitors to the station," she said.

"The border crossing situation has become political and it is causing pain for so many families. The mental health impact on isolated children is not OK."

SA Health's deputy chief public health officer Emily Kirkpatrick said a large number of applications had been received by the exemptions team and the number would no doubt continue to increase.

"We have asked those seeking exemptions to reapply closer to the time of travel in case there was any regional spreading of Covid-19.

"We are encouraging those individuals to reapply if they have not heard back in a five working business day time frame."

Dr Kirkpatrick said provisions with boarding schools had been made to get students back into school, as well as further information about visitors and movements on remote stations.

"SA Health have certainly been providing exemption passes for boarding school students returning to SA from NSW."

The SA Minister for Education John Gardener and SA Department for Education have been contacted for comment by ICPA and Stock Journal and have not yet responded.

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The story Stations caught in border crossing crossfire first appeared on Stock Journal.

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