Office of the Children’s Lawyer
A member calls the Provincial Office for advice concerning a letter received by the principal from the Office of the Children’s Lawyer. The letter states that a legal representative has been appointed by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to represent a child that is currently the subject of a child custody battle between her parents. The letter also states that this lawyer would like to interview the child’s teacher. The member wants information about teachers’ rights and obligations in this situation..
The Office of the Children’s Lawyer (also known as Child Advocate) is an agency of the Ministry of the Attorney General. A teacher is not legally obligated to participate unless subpoenaed to appear in a court proceeding. A teacher who is subpoenaed must attend court. However, what she or he can reveal in court or even in an interview with lawyers is somewhat restricted by law. Any information regarding the suitability of either parent is very subjective and would put the teacher in an awkward position. If the teacher provides any statements to the Office of the Children’s Lawyer, it will undoubtedly be provided to both sides in the custody battle and could become part of the court proceedings.
In a private interview or in court, teachers may speak about facts they know through direct personal experience and knowledge of the student. The teacher may refer to personal notes but may not say anything that relates to other students. In addition, a teacher cannot comment on the physical, mental or emotional state of a student because that is the role of an expert witness. Because information contained in the Ontario School Record (OSR) has very restricted status, most school boards require a court order to release the reports it contains. Should such an order be provided, the school board lawyer will handle the restriction issue.
If a teacher receives a letter from the Office of the Children’s Lawyer, the issue should be discussed with the principal. The principal should seek advice from the superintendent and/or school board lawyer concerning such a letter. The decision to participate voluntarily is the teacher’s decision and not the principal’s. OECTA does not provide lawyers to accompany members to court in these situations. It is recommended you, instead, contact your local unit.