In February 2011, Nicole Smolowitz’s son was admitted to the Mandell School on the Upper West Side. She signed a contract and paid the $7,500 deposit. By late April, the family’s financial situation had changed, and private school was no longer an option, the New York Times reports. Ms. Smolowitz called the school to say her son would not be able to attend. She did not expect to get her deposit back—but she was told she had to pay the remaining $26,250, as well.
“It’s April,” she said she told them. “I will find someone for you to take my child’s spot.” The school told her that was not how things were done. Then, in September, Mandell sued. For most parents, getting their child into a private school is a moment of joy, or at least relief. But uncomfortable conversations take place at this time of year, as some parents reconsider.
Sometimes these conversations lead to an amicable parting. Other times, they lead to a bare-knuckled fight in court. Since 2009, at least five private schools in New York City—Mandell, York Preparatory School, Friends Seminary, Léman Manhattan Preparatory School and the Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School—have sued parents for tuition…
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