Private School Tuition During Covid-19 Closures

I am curious if any of the bay area private schools currently shuttered due to the Covid-19 Shelter in Place order will be making any attempts to lower tuition now that the closure will definitely go into May -- and possibly longer. Or, if they are trying to make up some lost time in the summer. Would you be willing to share (anonymously) for the sake of other private school parents trying to navigate this? I'll start. My child is enrolled in The Renaissance International School. Thus far we've received some letters from the administration about an attempt to "lower costs," but the latest seems to be that tuition will remain the same so the teachers will be retained and the school will be able to reopen. They are willing to do different payment schedules on a case by case basis. Nothing has been said about making up time in the summer, though that would be complicated for our school anyway since it already has a summer program that not all students opt into. Anyway, I'd love to hear what other people's experiences have been at their schools, just to share information. I certainly don't have an opinion on what *should* be done -- it's a terrible situation all around! None of this was the fault of private schools, and of course they want to retain their staff. However so many parents are dealing with sudden job loss/income reduction, also through no fault of their own, while having their kids home all day and being in charge of their education. My child isn't really at an age where distance learning is possible without all day participation by a parent, even if the staff are doing their best to provide lessons. What else can I say? I'm sure fellow parents reading this are all having the same issues! Hope we can discuss.

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The private schools I'm aware of all keep their tuition the same and do online classes.  The teachers for the most part are still working the days to prepare the online program and provide it and are getting paid, so payment is still due as usual.  My childcare program went to 50% payment, though I get zero value for it now except retaining my spot for when school goes back in session, which I'm a little upset about since they used to have activities and lessons and are offering nothing virtually.  I'm still paying but I'm much happier to keep paying when the programs are at least attempting to provide replacement instruction/enrichment virtually, esp since my kids really like it and enjoy school and all of their activities that moved online.

Most of the K-12 independent schools, including our K-8, are providing daily lessons and content from what I hear, so therefore no, not reducing tuition (since staff are still being paid). That said, I know our school is absolutely working with families who have lost jobs to help them through incredibly tough times. The impact of the crisis varies widely by family, though--within our school community, I know of a family where both parents are now out of work, and of multiple families (including our own) where both parents are still being paid full salaries and able to work from home or in essential fields out of the home. Many families are somewhere in between. My expectation is that families like ours that have not yet suffered an income loss will pay as usual for as long as the school continues to pay employees as usual, and those who have lost jobs will be helped as much as the school is able through the tuition assistance program. (Fortunately at our school, most families have already finished paying tuition for the current year given the payment schedule for that, so it's largely about next year.) It also sounds like your child is preschool-aged, and that is another story entirely as far as how well the school can provide instruction and content--I think the more relevant reference there is other preschools vs. other independent schools. The remote learning isn't ideal for early elementary, but it's working decently for our kids. Our kindergartener does need adult help transitioning between activities, but our school has done a great job providing supports for this (including lots of videos from teachers demonstrating each lesson or activity). If/when the school does need to start laying off staff, I would expect that there might be some reduction in costs passed onto families, but I very much hope we won't get to that point, and that "real" school will be able to resume in the fall. Fingers crossed!

I think school by school the situation is a bit different, but here goes how I see it.  If you are making the same income, just working from home and taking care of your kid, you absolutely positively should continue paying full tuition.  It is essential for the survival of the school, and the economy of our community and the nation.  All of us have to give something.  We are in this together.  Now, if you are making less income because you are on unemployment or lost a job or whatever, that is a different situation.  Hopefully your school has a strong financial aid program.  If your tuition is paid for the year I wouldn't bring it up but for next year hopefully they can accommodate your situation.  But keep in mind they are accommodating everyone else's situation as well.  You didn't mention whether your school is continuing to provide learning in some form to your child.  My kid goes to Oakland Hebrew Day School.  They have put in enormous effort to create an online forum in a very short period of time.  My kids even have art and P.E.  Yes of course it is not the same as in the classroom.  But it requires more, not less for the teachers, administrators and staff to put together and they need to get paid.  I think any of us who are still being paid, or are financially able to should continue to pay all the same schools, camps, nannies, housecleaners, tutors, gardeners, etc etc as long as we are able to.  It's not their fault they can't work the way they used to.  But again, if your income has taken a hit, that also needs to be taken into account as you can't pay what you don't have.

No word from Bentley re tuition or longer semester.  Their current online learning environment is as good as it can be, I think.  

To help with your info gathering, I'll share my experience as a K-8 teacher at a private school in SF.

As far as I know, our school has no intention of extending the school year into the summer. Instead, we have cancelled events for the rest of the year (like trips and field day) so that we have more instructional time--even if it is during this period of distance learning. Extending into the summer would be very complicated--you list some reasons, another to consider is that teacher contracts are often 9 months. So, a school might not have the staff to offer instruction (I would have to pay for childcare in the summer so that I could teach, for example--like you, right now I'm juggling home schooling a 5 year old while working, aka teaching online to 10 year olds).

For families (both those of students and those of faculty) experiencing financial hardship, our school has a separate fund to help support them during this time. I assume the school is also offering different payment schedules, such as what you described.

I hope that helps.

We have a kindergartner at a private school. Your concerns are broadly shared. It's hard to care for and teach a child and work at the same time (if one is lucky enough to be able to work from home) and private school tuition is a giant voluntary expense that suddenly seems wasteful. 

Our thought is that we don't mind continuing to pay tuition because we want the school to stay open and everyone there to stay employed, and also when this is all over and schools open again, we want our child to keep attending there. We love it. This closure is a few months (I hope) out of many years of schooling. Of course we could lose our jobs tomorrow and the situation would be very different, but unless or until we lose income we are paying for all our regular commitments as usual. 

I too wondered why we couldn't pick up the school year in summer assuming that SIP is over by then. The obvious answer is that educators are still working now so having them teach over the summer would be additional work for which there would need to be additional finds allocated. I personally would prefer that all the schools treated this time like summer break with the assumption of picking up in May or June or whenever it's possible. I think it is very hard to move mammoth bureaucracies (one of the reasons we opted for private in the first place) to make those kinds of changes and it seems that whatever happens all the schools, public and private, in the state will act together. 


My 4 yr old is attending a pre K - 8 grade private school in Oakland. The school is amazing in that they fully transitioned to online instruction in just a matter of a few days after shelter in place was announced. This includes her preschool which has children ages 3-5. Her classmates have two 30 minute online zoom sessions M-F and her teachers also host office hours daily if parents have questions. While online Children are working collaboratively on activities (that have been emailed to us that we print. The school also sent home a packet of two weeks worth of prepared packets). During the zoom session children are also in conversation with one another to keep up their communication skills. It certainly doesn’t make up for a complete day of instruction but it’s enough to keep my LO engaged and on some type of routeein. It’s definitely a lot of work on us as parents to get her set up on the computer with all of her materials and of course we have to monitor to make sure she’s following instruction. But it’s only 1 hr total.  I fully expect to pay full tuition this month because her teachers are doing what they can to keep the children learning. I wonder whether your child’s school might consider some type of modified online instruction even for just 30 mins daily? The school should figure out a way to be creative, use their resources and adjust as much as possible to ensure the kids are continuing to learn. Otherwise it would be difficult to justify paying full tuition. Is it possible for you to make this suggestion to your child’s school?  No judgment of course; just sharing my experience. Good luck this has been a tough time for us all!!! 

I don't think there's much you can do. My daughter goes to kindergarten at a private school and the contract we signed has a "force majeure" clause which makes us still responsible for tuition in this situation. I'm sure you signed something similar. With that said my daughter's teachers are still working hard to provide an education remotely and school administration has been providing a lot of support remotely so it makes sense to continue paying. A lot falls on the parents for teaching but the teachers are putting together the materials and holding multiple zoom sessions a day so they are by no means enjoying this time off. This has definitely been hard on them as well. My daughter's school has announced that for people facing financial hardship because of the virus they could contact them to work something out. Also if you had purchased the tuition refund insurance then you could withdraw your child and receive 50% of the remaining tuition back although you would miss out on all the educational support. Going that route wouldn't guarantee their readmission for next year though.

Our child is in preschool at a small independent school that's already been going through some precarious financial times. The head of school sent out a very candid email a few days ago saying that they will do everything they can to keep the doors open, but that in order to do that they need parents to continue paying whatever they can. They are offering to work with anyone who's been affected financially, and they're also applying for small business loans and doing some calculated layoffs that they say they're hoping to be able to make short-term (I don't have more info on that part yet). They're also offering online learning but it's not really applicable for the preschool kids, that's mainly resources for parents to work w/kids at home and some availability by teachers to basically become remote parenting coaches (which I appreciate). We are continuing to pay tuition because we are able to do so and want our school to be open in the fall. I understand that for many committed families this may just not be an option, and I'm worried about the future of our little school. There's no "right way" to do this -- everyone's just trying to figure it out the best they can.

Our small private school, Sunnyside MicroSchool, discounted the tuition during Shelter in Place. Now they are offering a very reasonable sliding scale for the remaining monthly payments, which I thought was incredibly generous.  They are offering 1:1 tutoring sessions with teachers multiple times a week, class sharing time, and group special topic classes that are 1 hr long (poetry, yoga, Spanish, engineering).  Because of the population of kids it serves (gifted, sensitive, quirky, 2e/asynchronous learners), all day online video calls don't work at all, so they don't do any class for more than an hour at a time.  So we feel really happy with what they are offering and the price they are offering it at.

I'm like you:  I don't know that there is a good answer to this problem.  But I can share my current situation.  My 3-year-old son is enrolled at AIM (American International Montessori) in Berkeley, which has Japanese and Chinese immersion classes.  They have an infant program, a program for children ages 3-5 (which includes the Kindergarten year), and an elementary school program for grades 1-5.  The most recent plan is that AIM is gonna try to provide useful distance learning for the kids, through online classes.  Not classes that will last as many hours as a regular school day, but at least something on every day.  What they have offered us is that you can sign up your infant for this for 50% of the regular tuition, or your 3-to-5-year-old for 70% of the regular tuition.  (So that's a 30% price reduction, not a 70% reduction.)  I'm not sure what they're offering for the elementary program.  

Obviously distance learning works better for older kids.  The fact that the infant classes are gonna be 50% of regular price comes from their acknowledgement that what you're normally getting for your infant is child care that can't be replaced with distance learning.  But for my 3-year-old, it's pretty clear that he's not gonna be able to sit in front of a computer all day and do online classes while I'm freed up to work.  Maybe it will be better than having to teach him all by myself, but he's gonna require constant attention.  So clearly what we're gonna get from distance learning isn't really worth 70% of what we were getting before.  But on the other hand, there might still be SOME value from what he can get, especially the value of hearing native Japanese speakers to assist his language learning.  And my wife feels like we have a moral obligation to continue to support teachers and schools.  So we're gonna try out the distance learning thing for a month and see how it goes.  The school is trying to be flexible and give us some options, like the option of trying out the online stuff and then canceling after a month.  Or the option of just not paying anything at all.  So I can't fault the school, which seems like they're trying to come up with the best options for a near-impossible situation.  And it sounds like AIM is being more proactive and practicing better communication with the parents than RIS is.

I'm curious to hear from other folks about how they're dealing with this situation.  I'm sure a lot depends on your particular situation, like what your job is, how old your kids are, etc.  At this time, my wife is still trying to work full-time from home, while I'm self-employed and working occasionally from home, while we try to split child-care duties for a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old.  What we're finding is that it's impossible for parents to work full time from home and also home-school their children at the same time.  Which should be obvious to everyone, but now we have the proof.  Good luck to everybody else out there in the same boat!

I'd love to chat more with you on this. We are planning to send our son to a private school in the fall. But frankly, I'm not thrilled about paying more than $20K for virtual kindergarten, if next year ends up being remote. I'm so curious how parents at existing private schools are managing this. 

My son’s independent HS recently offered families a partial refund on year and semester long lunch and transportation plans. They are still paying the kitchen and transportation staff, so the refund covered the non-labor portion of the costs (if that’s how you say it). They also offered the option to forgo the refund to help the school navigate the unexpected costs that have popped up due to SIP. No break on tuition, but the students are still getting plenty of instruction virtually and the administration is providing lots of support. 

I'm a TRIS parent too and have been frustrated with the lack of communication beyond "There will be no reimbursement of tuition fees offered." Managing four 30-minute Zoom classes each day is hard for everyone. We've missed a few classes, we've been 15-minutes late, the schedule was wrong, the log-in didn't work, we've had the video freeze. We had to buy the 4-year old an iPad. Sometimes Circle Time leaves my child feeling worse afterwards. If I had a 2-year old, it would really not be worth it at all. Some thoughts/solutions I wish schools could consider:

1) The unemployment figures are staggering and schools should acknowledge this and be transparent about tuition reduction policies. I really like what I'm hearing about AIM's approach - there is a nod towards this being a shared burden, parents of younger children get a larger refund, and parents who are comfortable can choose to contribute their discount back to the school/teachers.

2) Everyone is facing huge uncertainty over the next year or two. Schools cannot keep their contracts and tuition the same and assume business as usual. We've already prepaid through August 2020, so it makes me nervous about how to approach the 20-21 school year when it comes time to sign up (and pay) next month with a 3% tuition increase. Pre-paying again is hardly an option, but parents are penalized with paying 7% more if we don't - AND we're still on the hook for the full years' tuition and the insurance would only refund 60% for financial hardship. What I want: Consider pre-paying quarterly (not for the full upcoming year) and have a 60-day notice clause so that the school has ample notice to fill an upcoming vacancy and parents who experience financial hardship aren't out up to $11k for the year AFTER insurance.