THE parents of interstate boarding school students are constantly worried that when they drop their children off at school, they may not be able to get home, with state borders slamming shut "at the drop of a hat".
The Isolated Children's Parents Association has called for a nationally consistent and long-term approach to border restrictions for boarding students.
ICPA president Alana Moller said while urban schools were closed for weeks during COVID outbreaks, many rural students were not able to return to their boarding school for months, even several terms due to border closures.
"Students from western NSW who board in Victoria weren't able to go, because they weren't sure if they could come back," Ms Moller said.
"The schools stopped doing virtual lessons because most students had returned. These students are already disadvantaged and the inconsistency is disadvantaging them further."
Ms Moller wants common sense border exemptions for the geographically isolated students who are forced to travel interstate to finish their education.
"This is not people travelling from Sydney to Brisbane, it's people who live 15km from their mailbox and 120km from town," she said.
Regional Education Minister Andrew Gee has written to the federal, state and territory Chief Medical Officers to reiterate the need for a common-sense approach for interstate boarding school students.
"I've also reaffirmed to them that this approach should be based on universal principles and applied across all jurisdictions," Mr Gee said.
"Every time we have a new COVID outbreak and another border closure, alarm and anxiety strikes our boarding school parents and students who fear more chaos, disruption and heartache."
ICPA NSW president Claire Butler said it was disturbing to see borders "slam shut at the drop of a hat", given the number of students that regularly cross over into Victoria or Queensland.
"There is a feeling of uncertainty for parents of boarding students - when they drop them at school and return to NSW, they're wondering if they'll be able to get back home," Ms Butler said.
A number of students have been "caught in the crossfire" of border closures.
"South Australia had a 100km border bubble with NSW - we had a family on a station 100km from the border, but the house was 118km from the border so they didn't allow them in initially," Ms Butler said.
"We had another child that had to isolate in a caravan in his grandparents' yard. When South Australia opened the border to regional NSW, that child still came under the old rules, so we had to work hard to get him released from quarantine.
"If we had consistent rules, this wouldn't happen."
ICPA Queensland president Louise Martin said some of the boarding schools lost students because parents weren't willing to send their children across the border.
The boarding schools were in a tricky situation, Ms Martin said, with health and education directives coming down from both a federal and state level, forcing them to wade through a variety of rules which were often interpreted differently school-to-school.
"I know of one boarding school that has submitted at least 30 revised COVID plans," she said.
"That takes up a huge amount of their time, when it should be used for taking care of our children at their home away from home."
Ms Butler said at the end of the day, the mental health of the students should be the number one priority.
"These are young minds, and for children it is hard enough to go away to boarding school, so it's important for them to know there is that freedom for them to go home to see mum and dad," she said.