One in a series of Need to Know articles from the BCPVPA’s Contract and Legal Team
On Subpoenaed to Court
What is a Subpoena? In your role as principal or VP, you might be called upon to be a witness in a proceeding involving one of your students, staff, or parents. A subpoena is a request for documents, or to appear in court or other legal proceeding. As a court-ordered command, you must comply or you could be subject penalty.
How should you respond to a subpoena? Contact your Superintendent for clarification about District Policy, School Act, or other documents that provide guidance on what you are able to provide to the courts. Things like attendance records, academic standing, behavior records and child study notes may be submitted only after securing permission and direction from the District. Contact the BCPVPA for additional support. You should also seek to talk to the person/lawyer who has requested the information so that you are able to prepare for any testimony you may give.
79 (1) Subject to the orders of the minister, a board must: (a) establish written procedures regarding the storage, retrieval and appropriate use of student records, and (b) ensure confidentiality of the information contained in the student records and ensure privacy for students and their families.
(1.1) Subsection (1) also applies in respect of records referred to in paragraph (d) of the definition of “student record,” even though those records are excluded from that definition. (2) Despite subsection (1), a board must, if required by the orders of the minister, permit a person providing health services, social services or other support services access to information in student records required to carry out that service. (3) Subject to the orders of the minister, a board must establish and maintain a record for each student and for each child registered with the board’s schools under section 13.
Role of a witness: A witness tell the court what you know, whether it relates to the person in question, the situation described, or the circumstances surrounding the alleged crime or misconduct. This may mean that you will need to bring documentation with you relating to the person in question.
What can I say during court?: You will initially be questions by the lawyer who requested you to attend. You will then be interviewed by the other lawyer. As a witness, you can testify about things that you saw, heard first hand, and that you know are true.
Do’s and Don’ts: Be honest and forthcoming. Take your time in answering the question. Make sure that you understand what the lawyer is asking and focus your response on the information that you have. It is fine to say that you do not know anything about a topic. You may be asked the same question in slightly different manners to check on your consistency and credibility. Do not make any assumptions nor answer questions such as “What was the person thinking?” You cannot know what a person was thinking but you can comment on what you saw, which could include, facial expression, body language, or actions. Bring relevant files but first obtain permission from the District. Ask for clarification if you do not understand a question.
Conclusion: Subpoenas are formal legal documents that must to be taken seriously. You have done nothing wrong and are being called as a credible witness for information to assist with a court hearing involving a student, staff member or a parent. For support contact the BCPVPA at 604-689-3399 or 1-800-663-0432.