A recent memo from the province's acting chief medical officer of health to parents has raised concerns about inconsistencies in how the education system handles forwarding Public Health information.
On Jan. 12, Dr. Yves Léger advised parents and guardians about the spread of respiratory viruses, such as COVID-19, the flu and RSV, an increase in Group A strep infections, and steps they could take to protect themselves and others and the health-care system.
At least one school district — Anglophone West — forwarded the memo directly to parents right away.
But CBC News has confirmed another district — Francophone North West — waited three days, while others sent it to the schools to send to parents and still can't say for sure if they did.
"They just kind of bobbled it'
Miramichi mother Kathleen Gadd says her children's elementary school only posted the memo on Facebook six days later and says some schools still haven't shared it, even though a child under nine has already died from an invasive Group A strep infection this year.
"This is something that really is relevant to every school family. And here's this great communication from the Department of Health, the first direct communication that we've had from the Department of Health since 2022. And they just kind of bobbled it," she said.
It's a stark contrast to the way the school system handled Public Health messaging early in the pandemic, when all parents received information quickly through email and voicemail, according to Gadd.
Kathleen Gadd, pictured here with two of her daughters Renée Martin (behind) and Cameron Martin (right), contends education officials don't seem aware of the risk of transmission of illnesses in schools or the role schools play in community outbreaks. (Submitted by Kathleen Gadd)
She thinks the problem stems from the districts. She contends superintendents seem more focused on attendance than health and safety now.
Gadd points to memos from the various superintendents, including one from Anglophone South that suggests students who miss 15 days could be suspended, as well as personal notes sent to parents whose children have missed several days, stressing that "it is very difficult to be successful academically when children are not in class."
It's a problem that should be easy to fix, she said.
"You know, attendance and wellness and illness and hospital capacity are things that every New Brunswicker is aware of right now. We're all worried about it. It's all something that's affecting us.
"And so I think it would be pretty straightforward for the Department of Education to say, 'OK, when we get a formal letter from the Department of Health concerning student health, just like we did in 2020 and 2021, we're going to prioritize communicating that direct message.'"
Department defers to districts, Health is mum
Asked why forwarding Public Health information appears to be optional and whether that will change, the Department of Education said it followed its "regular process."
Spokesperson Diana Chávez said the memo was sent to the seven superintendents on Jan. 12.
"Questions regarding the distribution of this memo to families should be directed to the school districts," she said in an emailed statement.
The Department of Health did not respond to questions about whether it was aware of the issue, how it feels about it or what, if anything it plans to do about it.
"For the latest advice and guidance on the respiratory illness season, you can read the memo from the acting chief medical officer of health that is being shared with students across New Brunswick," spokesperson Sean Hatchard said in an emailed statement.
2 of 4 anglophone districts explain process
The memo came through the Department of Education with the request to "please distribute to all principals," according to Anglophone West spokesperson Paul MacIntosh.
His district sent it both ways — to principals and directly to parents, he said. It also included information about a Quaker recall on several granola bars and cereals due to the risk of salmonella, MacIntosh said.
Anglophone South shared the memo on Jan. 12 with its "principals and vice-principals and other leadership, with instruction to distribute to their families," said spokesperson Jessica Hanlon.
She could not confirm whether they did.
Anglophone East and Anglophone North did not respond to a request for comment sent last week.
3 francophone districts respond
Francophone North East forwarded Léger's memo, as requested, said spokesperson Brigitte Couturier. It was sent to all parents by telecourier, a voicemail system. She said it was also posted on the district's Facebook page as well as most of the schools' Facebook pages.
"We've not been made aware of people being upset other than a few negative emoticons on our Facebook page," Couturier said.
Francophone South "recognizes the importance of the Public Health's memos in ensuring the health of our school community and the general population," said spokesperson Jean-Luc Thériault.
"That's why we asked our 38 schools to pass on the information to their parents as soon as we received the Public Health's memo, on January 12. It was also sent to all French daycare owners in our territory," he said.
The district sent a "reminder" to principals on Jan. 17 "to make sure they sent" it, he added.
Francophone North West sent Léger's memo to all its schools on Jan. 15 and asked that it be distributed to all parents, said spokesperson Denise Laplante.
"I cannot confirm that all schools have proceeded to the distribution of said memo yet," she said on Jan. 17. "But I am sure that it will be done by the end of the week."