COVID-19 restrictions stop Auckland parents from collecting kids on 'compulsory' leave weekend at Hamilton boarding school

A National MP says it's "ridiculous" Auckland parents who have children at Hamilton boarding schools were barred from crossing the border to collect them due to COVID-19 restrictions.

In a video posted to Facebook on Friday afternoon, MP for Port Waikato Andrew Bayly said he was "feeling very sorry" for parents living in Auckland, which is currently at alert level 3, who have got children at schools in level 2 areas - like St Peter's Cambridge, which conducted a "compulsory leave weekend" for boarders.  

"[Parents] have discovered only a matter of about 45 minutes ago that the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health have decided that no students should return back to Auckland," he said, "and they will therefore have to be put up by the school in somewhere like Hamilton, Waikato until we come out of lockdown." 

Bayly told Newshub parents believed they were able to collect their children from boarding schools across the Waikato and take them home to Auckland on Friday.

He says some parents got through the border at 2pm only for police to implement new rules within an hour and stop other parents crossing at 3pm. 

"Why would the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education make a ruling, an hour before a major announcement? Why suddenly is it 3pm when other parents got through at 2pm?"

Bayly added he was concerned the people stuck at school weren't adults. 
"You're talking about small children here, that's not good policy."

The Ministry of Health reiterated to Newshub that movement between areas under different alert levels is allowed only for "work-related reasons" or when a "personal exemption is granted, for example, a funeral". 

One mother commented on Bayly's video explaining that many parents were under the impression they would be able to collect their children from boarding school as they had done during the August lockdown. 

She said a compulsory leave weekend conducted by the school created a stressful situation for her and her sons. 

"Sure most [parents] would have left them there if possible," she said. "But our boarding school continued with its compulsory leave weekend, all kids had to leave school - luckily I had an option of sending the boys to Taupō."

Deputy secretary of sector enablement and support at the Ministry of Education Katrina Casey confirmed to Newshub on Saturday St Peter's College had asked for advice on Tuesday over whether they could go ahead with their "planned exit weekend" from March 5-7.

"The guidance we provided was based on Ministry of Health advice. Because the school is a boarding school, 'home' is considered to be the hostel under level 3 guidelines," Casey said.

"We advised that parents wanting to pick up their students from school yesterday would be unlikely to get a border exemption."

Despite this, the Ministry of Health received several border-exemption applications from Auckland parents wishing to pick their children up from boarding schools in the Waikato area. 

The Ministry of Health notified the Ministry of Education on the matter, which then relayed the information to St Peter's. 

"On their request, we contacted these schools to give them the heads up that some children would not be able to be collected because their parents did not have border exemptions," Casey explained.

"All students affected by this are safe and well and have been accommodated by their schools."

Bayly said it's not good enough. 

"It is the most ridiculous pronouncement I've heard and it only happened just before. I've been rung by people who are actually literally at the border trying to get through to go and pick up their children. This is outrageous."

One Facebook user labeled the situation as kidnapping: "Call the cops and have them for kidnapping, parents haven't signed a consent form for them to keep their kids have they?"

While other Auckland parents of children at level 2 boarding schools didn't seem to be affected. 

"My daughter is at boarding school in Hamilton and we planned on this happening last weekend, knowing that the border was going to be there. She is fine, it's only a few days and she can come home next weekend."

"Not sure why everyone is surprised by this," another added. 

Auckland has been under alert level 3 since last Sunday, and no new community cases of COVID-19 have been recorded for six days now.

It was announced on Friday that Auckland will move down to alert level 2 at 6am on Sunday, March 7, while the rest of the country will move to alert level 1. 

The Ministry of Health says movement between the Auckland and Hamilton boundary will be allowed for any reason during level 2.