Private School Contracts & Deposits

Parent Q&A

  • Hi,

    I am very unhappy with my son's response to "distance learning" and do not feel it is age appropriate. I am thinking of withdrawing him from school, and homeschooling him for the rest of the year. Does anyone know what the law is regarding withdrawing a child at this point in the school year?  My son attends a private school.  Any advice is appreciated!

    You can certainly withdraw him and go through the steps of setting up homeschooling (in some areas, you can set up independent study through your local district, which is likely to be the simplest; there are also charter schools set up to facilitate this). However, you will almost certainly need to pay tuition to your child's current school for the balance of the year anyway--your contract will specify this, but almost all become binding at the start of the school year. Given that there is only a month left of school, I'm not sure there's a huge amount to gain here. I would focus on working with his current teacher to get through to the end of the school year, and then withdraw him for next year and look for other options for the fall.

    You should review the contract you signed. My daughter goes to a private school and the contract we signed basically says we're responsible for the full tuition if we withdraw her. If you have the tuition refund insurance you might be able to use that but I think you would still be on the hook for a portion of the remaining tuition.

    We were considering doing the same, although to help support teachers, we are paying for the rest of the year and using supplemental material for each of our kids (grades 2, 4 and 7). It has worked out very well for us. Our kid’s school froze their grades and all work is just for learning. I will say, for us, this model has worked very well. 

    Also, we are talking to the school to see if they’d do a hybrid model next year. We do not plan on allowing our kids to attend school (frontline workers so we have a “unique” lens). It would make sense to charge students less in tuition for this model but it still ensures that tuition money is coming in.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Private school deposit while waiting for public school lottery?

Dec 2007

I am assuming it is a common problem: You aren't sure of getting into a good public, so you choose a private school that accepts you, you make a promise to have your child attend, and you pay a deposit. Then, if you get lucky enough to get into a public you feel good about, you have to renege on your agreement with the private school. I am sure the privates must be all-too-familiar with this scenario. How do you ethically and logistically navigate around this problem? Obviously, you lose your deposit, which makes sense, but can they hold you captive for more than the deposit? I believe many privates require you to sign a vow, essentially, that you commit to paying for the entire year. How do people handle this delicate situation? I would like to hear people's experiences. Perhaps certain schools are more laid-back than others. I heard through the mill that someone just had to pay for their kid's entire school year tuition, even though their child got into a public in the first month or so of the school year. Pray tell. Thanks.

My Daughter went to private schools and my experience was that I had to sign a contract stating that I was responsible for the entire years payments. I also found that unlike preschool where you make a deposit when accepted and then make monthly payments after they start in the fall. In private schools you start making the monthly payments in the spring/summer(May I think), so by the time school starts you have paid for a large chunk already. Anon

Private schools are very clear about the timeline and financial penalties for making a commitment. The closer you get to the beginning of the school year, the greater the payment. This is purely a business proposition for the private school (and I don't mean that in a bad way, it's just reality). The school has X number of spaces in kindergarten to fill, which will bring in Y tuition dollars. If you tell them that your child is enrolling in September, then the school holds that place for her and turns down other students. If, later on, you decide not to enroll, then the school has to spend time and resources to fill that space, or else forgo the tuition. The reason for not enrolling your child -- whether it is to go to public school, move to a new city, or a change of mind -- doesn't make a difference.

If you think you might want to hold a space that you might forgo if you get into the public school you want, you should make sure you are aware of the deadlines for deposits and tuition. Anon

When you accept a place at a private school, you are signing a contract. As with any other contract you sign, you should be prepared to honor its terms and perform your side of the bargain. How would you like it if you did NOT get into a ''good public'' but the private school then said, ''Gee, we've changed our mind about your child?'' That said, some schools are reportedly more relaxed than others -- mainly because they have a sizeable waiting list and have no problem filling the place. In that case, it would be improper for them to require payment for something that they were then ''selling'' to someone else. That is, they would have no damages from your departure. From your post, it sounds as though the people who had to pay the full year's tuition had used the private school for a month. Might have hard for the school to find a replacement at that point. Read the contract(s) carefully; some offer tuition insurance in case you want/need to pull out. There are also private tuition insurance companies that you can use for your protection.

Here's your cautionary tale from the school's perspective: they gave a spot to this child, and they may well have turned away another applicant to do so. After the school year had already started, they were informed that the child would not be attending after all. At that point they had very little chance of finding another child for that spot, but they had already made all their staffing decisions for the year and were locked into those costs. The rent and the teachers' salaries remain the same whether or not that child is in the classroom. So while I'm sure it was an unpleasant situation for that family, from the school's perspective it's pretty understandable. Most private schools are nonprofits, I should add.

Different schools have different policies about parents' liability beyond the deposit, so my advice is to read any contract very carefully before you sign it and assume that you will be held to the terms. You can always plead your case with the school, of course, but if you think you may need to be released from the contract then your safest bet is to purchase tuition insurance. (I know, it seems silly, like health insurance for your pet or something, but it's one way to ensure that neither you nor the school takes too much of a hit financially.) Private school administrator