St Fachnan and St Attracta’s NS
Court Situations Policy
Teachers are increasingly being subpoenaed or invited as expert witnesses to give evidence in different types of cases including:-
•Family Law Court cases
•Negligence, Insurance and accident cases
•Cases related to Child Abuse
•Cased related to Child Protection Orders
•Cases related to the implementation of the Child Care Act
Teachers have a clear professional responsibility to act always in their pupils best interests, even in circumstances where a court attendance may prove stressful and traumatic. They should be aware that they are not obliged to attend Court except under summons or subpoena. However, in relation to the above a teacher is not precluded from attending Court voluntarily to give evidence. This is a matter of professional judgement for the teacher, and the teacher may wish to contact the Principal, Chairperson of the Board of Management and /or the INTO on the matter.
It is generally recommended however, that teachers should insist on being summoned or subpoenaed to attend Court, since in the first instance the Department insists that a copy of the summons or subpoena be included with the salary returns in order to obtain paid leave of absence. Whoever issues the subpoena or summons should be responsible for paying for substitute cover and this should be a condition of attending the Court.
Attending Court under subpoena or summons can also provide protection for the teacher in so far as it indicates to all sides that the teacher is not volunteering information and would not normally wish to become involved in the particular case. Where a teacher is summoned to attend court the following guidelines are to be observed.
•The teacher is there in his/her professional capacity as a teacher and should generally be expected only to comment in relation to the teaching/learning situation, for example in relation to the child’s attendance, progress or other school related matters. Teachers should note that they are not psychologists or social workers and that their professional expertise relates to the teaching/learning situations.
•Teachers who are asked to attend court as professionals should indicate their expectation of receiving an appropriate professional fee and full substitute cover.
•The teacher may wish to clear such matters in advance with the Principal or Chairperson of the Board of Management.
•All witnesses are obliged to tell the truth under oath.
•A teacher summoned or subpoenaed as a witness is not directly involved in either side of the case except in his/her capacity as an expert witness and should therefore not require legal representation
•Where teachers are summoned by a party representing the school i.e. the insurance company in relation to an accident at school, teachers are advised to co-operate fully with that party.
•Where solicitors/Social Workers or Psychologists ask teachers for information orally or in writing prior to a Court case with regard to the child’s progress, they should have written permission from both parents, where there are two parents. The Principal should be made aware of this request also.
Parental Separation and the Implication for Schools
The Separation of parents, often following marital breakdown, can be traumatic for the children concerned. Therefore teachers should approach the issues with sensitivity and with a focus on the wellbeing of the children. In addition, the situation can often raise conflicting demands for teachers.
Parents, although separated following marriage breakdown, remain the legal guardians of their children – the key principle being ‘Once a parent always a parent’. Guardianship gives both parents a say in matters affecting children’s welfare. Unless precluded by Court Order, each parent continues to have rights to consult with class teachers, attend parent teacher meetings, have access to the normal end of year school reports and be notified of meetings of parents. In this respect schools should show some flexibility
•Where a school is notified that parents are living separately, it may be appropriate to send two separate notices of the parent/teacher meeting so as to ensure that both parents have the opportunity to attend. Where it is not possible for parents to attend together schools should attempt to facilitate separate meetings. Teachers should rely on their own sense of good judgement in approaching these matters.
•During school hours teachers are in ‘loco parentis’. Where parents are in dispute, the teacher/school, as a rule of thumb, should make it absolutely clear that issues of dispute should be resolved between parents themselves outside of school. Issues of dispute may for example relate to the collection of children or parents wishing to visit their children during the school day. The teacher/school should make it clear that the school is an independent party and that teachers will act in fair, open and even handed manner with respect to each parent. However in general teachers should comply with the request of the parent who has ‘de facto’ control of the children. When a dispute arises, the teacher should seek direction from the Board of Management.
•Information relevant to the child may be passed from teacher to teacher within the school.
•Where outside professionals or solicitors acting on behalf of one parent, request a school report on the pupil (at times other than the normal end of year), the teacher in consultation with the principal, or Board of Management where deemed appropriate, should make a decision on whether such report will be furnished. It may be sufficient to copy the end of year report. Where a decision is made by the school to provide a report, such report, should be similar to the normal end of year report and supported by the usual verifiable data, e.g. test results. As a general rule, where a report is issued to one parent, a copy is furnished to the other parent also and parents should be informed in advance, that the school will act in such an even handed manner. However, there may be circumstances where this may not be appropriate especially in cases involving alleged child abuse.
•Where a solicitor acting for one parent seeks a written report from a teacher, then the consequences of a teacher voluntarily responding must be considered. The report may subsequently be produced in any legal proceedings and the teacher may be called as a witness and cross-examined. If a teacher decides not to respond she/he may be subpoenaed to attend court. In these circumstances the teacher is advised to seek advice from the INTO.
This policy was ratified by the Board of Management in 2018.