Last Updated on March 18, 2021 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
When a student leaves a private school midyear, due to moving, a change of heart, or a discipline exclusion, parents may be surprised to know that depending on their private school contract, they may still be obligated to pay tuition to the school after the student is gone.
Whether the family is obligated or not depends on the contract with the individual private school. Was it written to obligate the family to cover a whole school year or to cover each month of attendance? The answer is important.
Some private schools write contracts to cover a whole year of attendance. In other words, a parent agrees to pay a set amount and it covers that entire school year. The parent may opt to pay in advance, or monthly, but regardless, the amount is intended to cover a whole year. Often the private school will win if this is the type of contract in place. The “logic” applied in these scenarios is that if parents could just leave randomly, it would mess up the school planning. For example, if the school has 500 students attending at a total promised amount of $10,000 each, the school counts on $500,000 to cover their salaries, rent, and other expenses. If parents can just leave and not pay, the school may see itself in a tight spot, unable to pay their staff or maintain the school.
Other schools may have parents simply pay monthly to cover the month. In other words, they know they will owe X amount per month and the contract is not for a whole school year. Parents may also pay in advance, but the funds would still simply cover each month individually. These schools may even have in their contract the fact that if a student leaves, any advance would be refunded and/or no amount would be owed. This is a MUCH better arrangement for families, as if something unexpected happens and a student departs, the private school parent involved should not owe past the month they last attended.
The whole thing is very confusing, but I have seen contracts in both camps. So, if possible, it may be a good idea to obtain and compare various private school contracts in advance of enrollment to try to figure out which one is most favorable contractually. For, once a contract is entered, it is not that easy to escape.
Education Attorney for Students
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Please see my disclaimer. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting. This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.