Private School Rights and Enrollment Contracts
Because private schools are considered private actors, they have broad discretion over their mission, vision and operations.
Private school enrollment is a contractual relationship between a school and a family. The school’s enrollment contract sets forth the terms of the agreement.
PRIVATE SCHOOL FAMILIES SHOULD REVIEW THEIR ENROLLMENT CONTRACTS – AS WELL AS ALL OTHER RELATED DOCUMENTS – CLOSELY
This comes as a surprise to many parents, but it means that families with children enrolled at private schools often have limited rights, which are usually spelled out in the enrollment contract.
Depending on the school, enrollment contracts can either be a simple one-page form or a complex multi-page document. But they are all legal agreements. Enrollment contracts outline payment terms, require students and parents to adhere to school rules set forth in the student handbook, and often require “parent cooperation,” meaning parents must promise to maintain a “positive, collaborative and constructive relationship” with the school.
It’s best to try to be polite and persuasive when raising concerns. But parents are realizing that some of the enrollment agreement language is over-the-top, and are asking for changes. Parental rights come first.
As private actors, private schools can limit speech. They are also permitted “free exercise of religion,” an important right since about three quarters of private school students attend a faith-based school. But private schools are subject to the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964. They are not permitted to discriminate on the basis of race.
IT MATTERS HOW THE SCHOOL IS FUNDED
Private schools are subject to some state regulations, especially if they accept state funding. In August 2019, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Non-Public Education issued guidance, noting that it “does not have jurisdiction over private elementary and secondary schools unless they are direct recipients of federal financial assistance from the Department.” But if schools accept federal funding through programs such as Title II, the National School Lunch Program, or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) grants for example, they are subject to some oversight by the U.S. Department of Education.
EXAMPLES OF PRIVATE SCHOOL ENROLLMENT CONTRACTS