GREEN BAY - Educators say they care about their students, particularly when those children are in difficult family situations.
But now some teachers and principals say they're being dragged into the middle of custody battles.
"I feel bad that we have to get pulled in. It's not fair. It's not fair to the whole situation," said Ryan Welnetz, principal of Suamico Elementary School.
Educators like Welnetz have been getting crash courses in how to deal with the courts.
"I got subpoenaed this year for a family court issue with custody involved," said Welnetz. "It's a little strange because we're really here to work with the kids. When the family issues come about, it puts you in an awkward position."
Phil Hart, principal of Lineville Intermediate School in Howard, says while he hasn't personally been subpoenaed, one of his counselors and a few of his teachers have.
"It's becoming a bigger problem as the years go on," said Hart.
"These are things I didn't see much when I first started in education. I'd say over the past five years, custody issues have become more elevated than they have in the past, and school has become more involved than ever," said Welnetz.
"I think what they're trying to use the information for is to show whether, in the current custody situation is Johnny or Sally doing well in school or poorly in school, depending on which way they're arguing; do they have emotional issues that they've brought up in the school setting, have they been acting out behaviors or things of that nature; so a lot of times they're attempting to show how the current custody arrangement is or isn't a benefit to the student in a school setting," said Attorney Bob Burns.
Burns says being called to testify in a custody battle creates problems for children - and not just those in the custody battle.
Teachers and principals agree.
"If they're not with those kids, the kids aren't getting the first instruction from the teacher that has the true skills and the relationships and stuff like that. So, it can be a little bit difficult in that the time that it takes out of the classroom really affects all kids then," said Welnetz.
Educators say it's not just being called to testify that can take a teacher out of the classroom. There can also be hours or preparation before going to court."
"Oftentimes, that comes with a request for records or other information and sorting out what we can share, what we can't share," said Hart.
Even if educators are called to court, they may not testify.
Welnetz says he's now been called for a second hearing in the case he was originally subpoenaed for.
"I didn't have to testify the first time, but sitting in court and hearing those situations that are coming up between the parents that are really private to them and having us having to be part of that conversation or just having to sit there and listen to it is very awkward," said Welnetz.
Educators say hearing those details can make it difficult to stay neutral.
While schools say subpoenas seem like an unavoidable inconvenience, lawyers say districts can work with the family's attorneys to bypass court.
"I think one thing that would be helpful would be to have more advanced notice when the parties are contemplating subpoenas for school personnel, because many times there can be something worked out with regard to getting appropriate authorization to exchange the information," said Burns.
Principals say their top priority during custody cases remains keeping the school a sanctuary for the child during a difficult time in their home life.
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