Last Updated on July 27, 2022 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer 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 student tuition to the private school after the student is gone.
Whether the family is obligated to keep paying or not depends on the contract with the individual private school. Was it written to obligate the family to cover a whole school year? The answer is important.
Most private schools write contracts to cover a whole year of student 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 private school counts on $5,000,000 to cover their salaries, rent, and other expenses. If parents can just disenroll the student, leave and not pay, the school may see itself in a tight spot, unable to pay their staff or maintain the private school.
What Else Does the Contract Say That Could Help?
Some schools have contracts that may impact the obligation to keep paying.
If there is a clause in a private school contract describing cancellation policies and procedures, if a parent follows them, maybe the parent obligation to pay can be reduced. Or, maybe the parent can get a refund of some advanced tuition funds.
Or, does the private school contract contain a clause stating that payments are only month to month and a student does not have to pay if they depart? That would be rare, but would certainly be positive.
These things can impact whether a student can leave and what parents owe for the private school for the remainder of the school year if the student is not attending.
Is There a Discipline Clause?
Sometimes private schools have terms in their contracts that state that if a student leaves due to discipline (e.g. they are expelled), the family owes the entire year contract. No matter what, the individual contract should be reviewed.
Check the Contract Before You Enroll
Probably the first thing to know and remember is that schools can vary in their contracts. Parents need to ask for the contracts of any private schools where they may enroll a student so they can compare terms and decide.
As I have seen students terminated from private schools for the most minor reasons (pushed a kid), it would be good to know if a parent could recoup some fees if a student was out for some unforeseen reason or not. Depending on the cost of the private school, the contract terms can mean a $20,000+/- difference if the contract terms are more or less favorable to parents and students.
It can be a good idea, if parents are confused, to get private school contracts reviewed by someone with experience in private school contracts as well, preferably before a student enters.
For, once a private school contract is entered, it is not that easy to escape.
Private school student lawyer Michelle Ball reviews private school contracts, assists parents with cleaning up private school records, and assists in private school grading and discipline problems. As a private school parent attorney centrally located in Sacramento, she can help across the state from small to large towns, including Los Gatos, Mammoth Lakes, Roseville, Foresthill, San Diego, Daly City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and many other locations.
Originally published September 20, 2011