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How to Break a School Contract


Doing what's fair without burning your bridges.

I grew up in a town where school choice was easy -- public or parochial. You attended the grammar school closest to your home and by the time high school rolled around, everyone was together in one big building.

I've been thinking a lot about my school days lately because a milestone reunion is right around the corner. It's high season for them. My best college friend threw a party for someone we first met 32 years ago, who was visiting from Denmark. On its heels was a roundup of old ADWEEK colleagues -- one of those special times you appreciate long after the living of it.

The parties were a welcome respite from a week in which I addressed an issue that's been the proverbial elephant in the room. My happy-go-lucky daughter was increasingly miserable at school, and it was diminishing her enthusiasm for learning.

Sometimes you need to let things work themselves out on their own. But my mommy radar was telling me this situation required some action.

We switched schools. From private back to public.

We live in a town with lots of school choices, and that's both a blessing and a curse. It can lead you to second-guess yourself 'til the cows come home. I'm delighted to report she's her old self again. I know I did what I needed to do.

Now comes the fun part. I've got half a year left on a private school contract I signed in June and have been paying monthly. Technically, I'm committed to the full sum, but I know there's a waiting list of people clamoring to get into the school. The director told me the policy is not to take in any new 7th graders after October 1. I missed this non-publicized deadline by mere days -- if the director intends to enforce it..

My friends say I should just walk away, but I'm not that kind of person. Also, the school's summer theater camp is one my daughter really enjoys and may want to attend in some future year.

A lawyer friend suggested I pay a little more on the contract, then go into default and see what happens. I've been negotiating with the director through email, but she's carefully shying away from the subject other than to say that I am expected to fulfill my obligation just as the school must fulfill its contractual obligation to teachers.

In researching the subject of breaking a contract, I ran across a few resources. "How to Get Out of a Contract that You Regret Signing" offers a small window of hope, but the school offers no provisions, such as medical reasons, for voiding. offers advice, but it's more specific to contracts where fraud was involved, which is not the case here. As for specifically how to get out of a private school tuition contract, this attorney opines that the old school might not want the bad publicity that could result from any trial.

Stay tuned. I'll keep you updated on how it turns out.

How would you handle this situation? Post a comment below.
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