PARENTS have labelled new restrictions placed on students returning to the State's boarding houses as cruel and contradictory.
Under the new restrictions, parents are required to sign an agreement which prevents them from seeing their children for the duration of the school term, with visitors not permitted entry to the colleges and students not permitted to leave their boarding facilities to visit family and friends.
The Nationals WA education spokesman Peter Rundle said his office had received a lot of feedback from parents who were having serious reservations about sending their children back to residential colleges.
"A lot of parents are quite distraught about having to sign their kids off for a nine-week term," Mr Rundle said.
"The conditions of the return - with parents having to sign up to have their kids be dropped off at the gate and have no physical contact with their family for the whole term, the students not being able to come out of the boarding school at any stage over the term, whether it be for community sport that might recommence, or going to the shops after school, has been met with a lot of anxiety from parents."
Mr Rundle raised these concerns with Education Minister Sue Ellery in a letter on his Facebook page and requested that there be a review of the restrictions in the third week of the term.
Ms Ellery's response, also posted by Mr Rundle on his Facebook page, said the Department of Education would review all school arrangements, including residential colleges in the third week with a view to making any changes in the fourth week.
"As of last night (May 4) that letter had over 2000 views and there has been a lot of positive feedback from parents, who said they felt a bit more comfortable in sending their kids back to their colleges," Mr Rundle said.
"Week three also actually refers to the end of next week, because we are already into the second week of term so it's not too far away.
"However, some parents I spoke to said they still wouldn't be sending their kids back under the current circumstances and would wait to see what develops."
With only year 12 students able to board at the Western Australian College of Agriculture, Cunderdin, due to limited space, Wyening farmer Julian McGill said he would not be sending his son back to the school under the current restrictions.
"My son is in year 11 at Cunderdin so he can't go back yet because they need to put each year 12 student in a separate room and the year 12s get priority which is understandable," Mr McGill said.
"But there's no way in hell that I'd send my son back even if he was in year 12 or once they start allowing the year 11 students back, until those restrictions are abolished.
"You don't get to visit them or see them throughout the term and they basically can't leave the campus.
"My son is missing school, but he doesn't want to go back under these circumstances, as he wants to be able to come home every second weekend.
"Some kids will be able to handle it, but others won't and their mental health will suffer."
However, with those parents choosing to wait comes the concern that online learning programs will not be able to meet the needs of students, particularly those boarding at residential agricultural colleges where face-to-face and hands-on learning tends to form a large part of their curriculum.
Mr Rundle said parents were also looking at other options, such as placing their children with day student families who agreed to look after them so they can attend school and have the same liberties as day students.
"We had a letter from our college telling us that if we could find private residency for our son, he could be a day student and he could come and go as he pleases, but if you're a boarder you're staying there until the end of the term, which is cruel," Mr McGill said.
Mr Rundle agreed there was a substantial amount of freedom given to the day students of the residential colleges when compared to the boarders.
"Parents are frustrated by the fact that at schools such as Denmark Ag, for example, you will have day students catching the bus from Albany, probably standing shoulder to shoulder with other students, going back home every night to their family and hanging out with their friends on the weekends, who then mix with the boarders that aren't being given any of these liberties," Mr Rundle said.
"It doesn't seem to make much sense."
Mr McGill said if there were no active cases in country areas where the boarders were travelling from, the regulations needed to be lifted.
"To me it's all irrelevant, because what happens when the staff go home for the night and they get exposed to other people, the day students who the boarders mix with are also exposed to other people and the silliest part about it is - if there are no active cases in the country areas where the boarders are coming in from then why have those restrictions?" he said.
In responding to concerns, Ms Ellery said that while it seemed contradictory that some day students may cross regional boundaries, a different response was needed for students at boarding facilities who were deemed higher risk because of their living arrangements.
"It is a cautious and careful approach," Ms Ellery said.
"As at May 4, there are still two active cases in the Goldfields region.
"In addition, there are some vulnerable communities in the Kimberley Pilbara and parts of the Goldfields.
"Parents will still have a choice about sending their child back to a boarding facility, however this model will allow all senior students to resume their education as soon as possible."
Mr Rundle said while all schools needed to take appropriate precautions during the COVID-19 crisis, the State government's restrictions seemed to exceed Federal advice.
"I understand the health guidance comes from our national health body, the AHPPC (Australian Health Protection Principal Committee), but our State's Education Minister, the Minister for Health and Premier can certainly make decisions to adapt to our local circumstances," he said.