Breaking Private School Contract-Devil in the Details

It’s hard for me to believe that in two short years my eldest daughter will be entering high school. The plan is for her to attend a Catholic high school. In Dallas we are fortunate to have several great Catholic high schools.

One of my good friends recently went through the Catholic high school application process with her daughter. After her daughter was waitlisted at her first choice school, my friend accepted a placement offer from her second choice school and paid the deposit. Judging by her choice of t-shirts, my friend’s daughter still has her heart set on attending her first choice school and will want to attend that school if a spot opens up. How do you break up with your back up date when your crush asks you to prom? The answer is not easily.

Parents typically sign a contract when they accept a placement offer for a child at a private school. One of the most important pieces of information in that contract is the deadline at which a family is on the hook for a year’s tuition. That’s right—before your child even picks up a pencil on the first day of school you could be on the hook for an entire year’s tuition. Schools argue that they making planning decisions (financial aid, staffing, and operations) based on the assumption they will receive a year’s worth of tuition for each child who has accepted a placement offer. Parents should read these contracts carefully and assume that the school will enforce the terms, for example with a lawsuit or debt collection.

What should a parent do if they decide they want to withdraw their child’s enrollment after the deadline? The first step would be to talk to the school about voiding the contract (or agreeing to pay an amount less than a full year’s tuition). Be sure to create a detailed paper or electronic record documenting any discussions with the school. The school may decide to release you from the contract or seek to enforce it, but it never hurts to ask.

So what did my friend do? After the deadline passed, she removed her daughter from the waitlist for the first choice school and committed fully to the second choice school (including purchasing several new t-shirts for her daughter).

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