Unfair preschool deposit policy

We have been at a local preschool for 3 years now (I will refrain from posting the name, in hopes that we can come to a peaceful resolution). When I signed the initial contract, it stated that if you have to withdraw your child mid-year, you are responsible for tuition until the school finds a new family. This felt very fair and reasonable to me, and they have a long waitlist so did not seem risky signing a 12 month contract. I subsequently signed this contract 3 more times each year.

In January, I signed a new enrollment contract for my younger child for the next school year. I signed the contract again, without reading it in it's entirety, as I expected everything to be the same. We have since moved and I need to withdraw my child. I would be withdrawing her before the next 12 month school year starts. The school is now telling me that we are on the hook for the full year tuition ($33K), regardless of when she leaves and if they find a new family. They said that is their new policy and I signed it in the January contract.

This feels completely unfair and predatory to me. How is it possible that a family could know so far in advance (20 months, considering they make you sign the contract 8 months before the 12 month school year starts)? Also, shouldn't they have told the families of such a major change? I realize it's my fault for not reading every paragraph of the contract, major lesson learned. 

Would appreciate any advice you all have. Is this a common practice in our area? Do I have any legal options? 

Parent Replies

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RE:

Honestly, go to the media. Once they get a media inquiry they are likely to change the policy and/or waive your tuition. I would search for a reporter at KQED who focuses on education and just send them this write-up. You will have to include the name of the school. 

RE:

Not sure about legal options or maglining a family-owned business in the media....bottom line is that you signed a contract 'without reading it in it's entirety.' That's on you. It sucks, but ultimately I assume any lawyer would tell you that not reading what you sign gives you 0 legal standing.

RE:

For a successful preschool with a waiting list and the ability to fill your spot - this feels profoundly ungenerous. And to have been a part of the community for 3 years - I would be absolutely dismayed. 

RE:

This doesn't surprise me at all. All private schools have this policy, and they don't care whether they fill your spot or not.  Lesson learned - read the fine print next time. I know other families who had this same issue and never got a refund. As I said, common practice for all private schools in the Bay Area. So you will be on the hook for the $30K next year and there's really nothing you can do but learn to read the contract every year, especially if you think there may be a change in your circumstances.

RE:

Also, I don't think you mean "20 months in advance".  More like 8 months in advance. If you signed in January 2024, it was for August 2024, not August 2025. Big difference. You are on the hook for the full amount, as is common practice in all private schools in the Bay Area. Usually you have until May 1 or June 1 to back out but after that, you are on the hook. Read the contract.

RE:

I disagree with a lot of the commenters saying you’re out of luck because you signed the contract and that’s the end of the story. This is a liquidated damages clause that I could certainly see a court refusing to enforce. (Source: I’m an attorney, but this is not my area of expertise.) 

Mostly chiming in with this information to say you shouldn’t give up without a fight and to reassure you that just because a person signs a contract (whether they read it or not) doesn’t mean it’s absolutely enforceable.

RE:

Have you already paid the $33k? This may be a controversial take, but you could just not pay it and see what happens. You could send them an email and say that you do not believe you are getting a bargained for exchange, as you believe that they have/will filled the spot, and you are therefore paying for nothing. What would they do if, for example, two months into the school year, you changed your plans on the move and needed to re-enroll? Would there be a spot for you? Based on what you have described, it sounds like probably not. See if they lawyer up. If you refuse to pay, they may send some threatening emails but ultimately let it go.