Breaking Up With Your Kid’s Private School Just As Messy As An Ugly Divorce

private schoolFor some cities, the hardest part of private school may be getting your child in  — as well as the politics of snagging a tutor. But once all the test scores have been looked over, the uniform has been bought, and that first tuition check has been written, most would assume that your next biggest problem is the PTA. But according to The New York Times, parents who find themselves unable to afford another year due to financial struggles could find themselves in court.

No, that’s actually not your disgruntled spouse scowling at you in the courtroom — it’s your son or daughter’s private school. The Times reports that since 2009, five NYC private schools have sued parents for tuition:

The schools’ argument is simple: Parents sign a contract when they accept placement, saying they will send their child to the school the next year and pay the agreed-upon price.

Even parents who end up pulling their child out for other standard, legitimate and sometimes unpredictable reasons — such as moving for a job — are up against some bitter schools. Like Frances Langbecker, whose daughter’s school sued her after six years, many of these parents have dedicated a lot to the school’s community, volunteering for events, fundraisers, and participating in the classroom. And for some families, lawyers aren’t the only way schools are coming after them:

…some parents have reported being threatened with debt collectors, leading many to cave and pay for an education their child will not receive. And defending a lawsuit is often not financially worthwhile, as the cost of a lawyer can approach the amount the school is demanding.

So for a new generation of parents, the etiquette is still evolving on how to tell your child’s private school that you’ll be parting ways, that it’s not working anymore, and that you have to go your separate ways — even after years together.

(photo: Lisa S./ Shutterstock)

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  • CW

    It’s a sign of the times. Schools used to have long waiting lists and had no trouble filling spots when current students left. They didn’t care which family paid the tuition so long as it was coming in. Now with the terrible economy, a lot more families are leaving than new ones coming in. I just heard an advertisement on NPR this morning for a chi-chi private school saying that they still had openings available for this fall. That NEVER would’ve happened back in 2006.

  • Jen

    I think this article is quite a bit slanted. I have close ties to the business office of a private school (and have quite a few connections with many others) and can tell you that the image of the evil, money grabbing school is simply false. For one it is currently standard practice for schools to offer an insurance policy that parents can take (usually to the tune of maybe $150 for a $28,000 tuition) that would leave them free of charges if they legitimately need to remove their child from the school (change of job, messy divorce, whatever). Additionally, I have never met a school business officer who’s first (or even twelfth) attempt to collect on a debt was an agency. This is because agencies take more than 60% of the amount they collect as a fee. Usually a business officer would try to work with the families to create a feasible plan for repayment. Additionally, if the issue is a financial one there are generally lots of avenues a family can explore with the school–financial aid, deferment of payment, etc.

    I have seen too many families who owe schools for two or more years of tuition refusing to pay and taking lavish vacations, buying their overprivileged children luxury cars for their 16th birthday’s, etc to have any sympathy with those who try and shirk their debts.

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