TLTR? Many parents don't take time to read the contract and other documents which the school sends you once your child has been accepted. It is time-consuming. The contract language is often confusing because it is written in legal language.
But you simply must take the time to read and understand those documents before you affix your signature and send off the deposit check.. Even if you happen to think that they are too long to read.
The two basic documents are the Contract and the Discipline/Honor Code. Not only should you read them carefully but make sure that your attorney reviews both documents as well. As Benjamin Franklin said so succinctly: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." It makes more sense to understand what you are agreeing to before you sign rather than to discover material information after the fact. A contract is a legal document. It is enforceable in a court of law.
Start with that contract which the school sends you after it has accepted your child. Remember that it was written by the school's attorney, not yours. Since that is the case, you need to have your attorney view the contract before you sign. She will explain any of the legalese which is not clear. She will also explain your obligations as well as the school's obligations. Here's an example of the sort of wording which you need to read and understand carefully:
"I/we agree to be jointly and severally obligated to pay the tuition in accordance with the payment plan selected above and, even if the student fails to begin or complete the school year for any reason whatsoever, including but not limited to voluntary withdrawal, dismissal, or denied enrollment because of account delinquency, to be liable for such a tuition in accordance with the contractual liability schedule below (less the non-refundable deposit). Withdrawals must be communicated in writing to the School by the undersigned and are effective as of the date received by the School." From Just Answer
Here's a seemingly straightforward contract
. But note the section regarding Withdrawal of your child from school.
I (we) understand that by registering my (our) child for the school year beginning in August 2013, and by paying the non-refundable registration fee of $400, a space will be reserved in the applicable class specifically for my (our) child. I (we) understand that registering my (our) child, without enrolling him/her, or withdrawing during the academic year will cause difficulty, since student spaces cannot or may not be filled. I (we) also recognize that as a private school, Saint Viator High School’s budget is based largely on tuition revenues and contributions. Therefore, I (we) specifically agree that once my (our) child is registered and guaranteed a space, if my (our) child is withdrawn or dismissed for any reason, I am (we are) obligated to forfeit the $400.00 non-refundable deposit and pay for any outstanding tuition and/or fees through the end of the semester."
It amounts to the same thing, namely, that you are responsible for paying the school according to the terms of the contract entered into between you and the school.
I am sure that you are probably thinking that all of this is standard language for a private school contract. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. Unless you are an attorney, I suggest that your best course of action is have your attorney review contracts like this. While you may not be able to change the language of the contract, at least you will have a very clear understanding of what is involved.
While dismissal is in most schools the punishment of last resort, still you and your child need to be aware of the consequences for breaking the rules. Schools take honor codes and discipline codes very seriously. But they also go to great lengths to proactively explain their codes and to remind students and parents about them.
A school's good name and reputation rests on the foundations of respect and discipline which are embodied in the honor and discipline codes. As with most things relating to private schools, the rules which you were used to following in your previous school will not be the same in another private school. Each private school is a self-governing entity which creates and administers its own rules. Don't for a minute let your child think that she can operate with impunity even in the last days of her senior year. I well remember a couple of seniors at my daughter's boarding school being asked to leave days before their graduation because they broke the rules regarding drinking. They did not graduate with their classmates. You can only imagine the consternation which these students' poor judgment caused both their families and the school.
Think of an effective discipline code just like the rules and laws which you and I follow and obey when we drive on a public thoroughfare. Those rules exist for our protection and the protection of other citizens. When we obey the rules, we get from Point A to Point B safely. Same thing with a discipline and honor code. Follow the rules which have been set forth for everybody's protection and guidance and you will do just fine.
Dismissal from school is avoided if at all possible, but the school reserves the right to dismiss a student at the school’s discretion if a student incurs a serious infraction with honor, behavior, attendance, or academics. Dismissal of a student does not relieve a parent or guardian from the financial obligations as agreed to in the enrollment contract."
There are several other forms which you might be tempted to think are too long to read.
The Health Form
Since your child is a minor (in most cases) you must give permission for the school to administer any prescription medications she takes. The school will not let your daughter have a bottle of pills to take. Also in your absence the school needs to be able to deal with any emergency situations.
The Activity Form
Participation in athletics, school trips, etc. are also covered when you sign the form permitting your child to participate. Just read what you are signing. That's the time to ask questions. Not after something has happened.
You will be asked to sign other forms as well. Take time to read and understand what you are signing.
I haven't mentioned your options when it comes to breaking contracts. Yes, you have legal recourse. But you know as well as I do that lawsuits are time-consuming and expensive as well as protracted. Thus, it is always a good idea to communicate clearly with the school so that all parties' expectations are set properly. With regard to unanticipated early withdrawal your first and best option is always to make sure that you have purchased tuition insurance. Even if the school doesn't offer it per se. That way, at least the financial implications of your child's withdrawal are covered.
Too long too read? Not when you consider all that is involved. Take time to read what you sign. Refer contracts to your attorney for review and advice. Remember that underlying all the verbiage in all those forms is the school's need to protect itself. It cannot afford to lose students in the middle of the school year for any reason. That is one reason for the contract's clauses pertaining to withdrawal and dismissal. The other factor to consider is that private schools generally think of themselves as acting in your place. In loco parentis. What that really means is that the school wants to act on your behalf at all times when your child is in the school's care.
Questions? Contact me on Twitter. @privateschl