Private School Contracts & Deposits

Parent Q&A

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  • Preschool enrollment contract

    (1 reply)


    Has anyone actually heard of having to pay a years tuition to a private preschool they backed out of? The one we backed out of has a "you are responsible for full year" stipulation. We are going to look into legal advice to see how enforceable it is. We accepted after the traditional May 1st date because the class wasn't full but we backed out in less than 30 days later due to logistics with job change, drop off, and commute. I understand this is the agreement I signed and the school has said they will, in good faith, try to find a replacement so we are not charged. If they do not find a replacement (a secondary concern, I'm not sure how we will be able to tell or not tell if its our child's spot they filled if there are more open spots in the class), has anyone in a similar circumstance actually had to pay the full year? Or heard of anyone having to?


    I imagine you have already figured out your path forward, but yes, this is a very standard contract for both preschools and independent schools, and very much enforceable. It can be very difficult to fill spots in the summer months before school starts, so the contract is intended to keep the school whole if families back out between enrollment and the start of school. Most of the families I know who had similar situations were eventually able to find replacements so did not have to pay for the full year. One was able to take it as credit for a younger child, and one was able to convert it to a donation to the school so that it was tax-deductible. Some schools are also more accommodating depending on the circumstances (e.g., you are unexpectedly moving out of the area vs. just decided to go to a different school). I would do your best to advertise the spot and let the school know if you are referring families to them--if one enrolls on your referral, it seems very reasonable to ask them to consider that filling your child's spot, even if other spots remain open. Then good news is that spots are very limited at many preschools this year, so there is more demand than some years. Good luck!

  • Deposit refunds when the school backs out?

    (2 replies)

    We just signed a contract and paid a deposit at my child's school. Because of disabilities, there is concern that the school will not be able to meet my child's needs. Right now it is a wait and see situation, but we're feeling that we may have made a mistake. If the school is unwilling to offer a space, does that mean they are having out of the contract? And in that case, will we be able to get our deposit back? Thank you.

    IF your child has a disability, then their should be an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in place that states the supports needed for your child.  that is your contract between you(Your child) and the school.  if the school fails to provide supports necessary, then you are entitled to your money back.  

    To correct the previous reply you got:  Private schools are not required to honor IEPs, only public schools are. Private schools can admit children with disabilities if they want to, but they are under no obligation to do that. In my experience having a disabled child, there are few private schools that admit disabled children because of the extra support and attention they often need. But if your school did agree to that, you should be aware that they are not required by law to offer your child any extra services or support beyond what they offer to all children at the school. For example, if your child needed a classroom aide, you would pay for that yourself.

    The deposit you gave the school was in exchange for the school reserving a spot for your child. Their budget is based on a certain number of children being enrolled.  They can only offer jobs to teachers if they are certain about their tuition income. So if you change your mind, it would not be fair to expect the school to cover that loss. Perhaps they have a waiting list and would agree to refund some of your deposit if they are able to fill the spot. I would think the sooner you ask, the better your chances are. 

  • We have a child going into K next Fall (2021-2022) and are navigating the charter, OUSD, independent school process. I believe we have to commit by 3/25/21 for a school, but there is a chance of getting off a charter or OUSD waitlist at any point through the following school year.

    How have other parents handled the decision for independent schools? Are we committed to paying for the full year's tuition (or paying for insurance and a % of the tuition) if we get off a waitlist and withdraw from private school mid-year? Presumably independent schools have a waitlist too and what if they are able to back fill the spot?

    Thanks for the advice and sharing your experiences! So many impossible decisions this year!

    For most independent schools, you have until May to withdraw your child and only pay 10% of the tuition. After that, it ramps up pretty quickly to 100% by the time school starts. You will know about your initial OUSD assignment and placement on waitlists before the deposit is due, and then you'll have a window of a couple months to withdraw and just owe the deposit should you get off the waitlist at a school you prefer. Families certainly do withdraw later than that on occasion and just eat the cost with the long term view in mind. OUSD waitlists dissolve on the tenth day of school, so you will likely know if you have a spot at your desired school before most area independent schools start classes. Do note that tuition insurance doesn't cover withdrawing to go to a different school, though; it's only for withdrawing for reasons beyond your control (job loss, relocation, etc.) Good luck with the process!

    We got the tuition insurance offered by my child's private school this year because we weren't sure what was to come. It's definitely a good idea to read the fine print and call them to make sure your situation would apply. I would also make sure that what the previous poster said about insurance is correct (that it doesn't cover certain types of withdrawal) -- we did read the fine print for ours, and spoke to them, and our situation was covered, so maybe it varies by policy. Not all private schools offer it though. 

    I agree with both posters, read the contract and insurance policies carefully. I never purchased the insurance at my son’s school, but I did consider it and it did NOT cover changing your mind, not a good fit, switch to another school, etc. Also, at his school, the contact that I sign each year states that I am responsible for 100% of tuition after a certain date, so in theory, the school could come after me for a year’s worth of tuition if he did withdraw once the school year started. I’m not sure any schools really do that, but they are within their rights if they do. These decisions are hard. Good luck!

  • 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.

    If you have a month to go before your private school year ends, I would talk with your child's teacher and see what can be changed to make what's left of the school year better for your son. There is a myth that homeschooling is easy. Home learning done well takes much intentionality and flexibility about what best suits the child and family in terms of how to support learning. Many families who homeschooled before the pandemic hit the Bay Area had larger learning environments because our communities are learning labs where we enrich our curriculum to real-world experiences. Sheltering in place has caused interruptions in routines for all children. However, the silver lining of massive disruption is clear insight into what is the best course of action going forward. What are your thoughts on education? How does your child learn academically and social-emotionally? Those of us who homeschool either through a Private School Affidavit or charter school spend a lot of time manifesting what the purpose of education should be in harmony with our child's learning style. It is not easy but so worth it. If homeschooling is the direction you would like to pursue for your family contact homeschooling groups and organizations in your area.        

    It might be useful to start with the terms of your contract. One that is relevant is the force majeure clause. This likely specifies that you are on the hook for tuition BUT implicit in any force majeure contract is that the school must continue to provide as much as possible in terms of services under the circumstances. To the extent your school is doing a lot less than this, its behavior may not be excused by the force majeure clause. The other clause that is relevant is the dispute resolution provision. Does it point to arbitration or to litigation? Litigation is very cumbersome and costly, for you and for the school; threat of litigation is an extreme option, but if you are so upset as to be wanting to withdraw your student right now, then maybe it would motivate administrators to pay attention to the issues.

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