By Julie Watts

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — If your preschool or child care center shuts down for an extended period due to COVID-19, can they still make you pay tuition?

That’s the question many parents are asking as child care centers are requiring parents to sign year-long contracts that would force them to pay for the full year. It appears some schools are revising their contracts to ensure parents do have to pay no matter what.

“I said, ‘Are you sure this is actually enforceable?'” mom Ingrid told CBS13, recounting her conversation with the preschool administrator when she saw her three-year-old’s preschool contract.

Ingrid, who asked we not use her last name, was shocked that she’d be required she pay tuition for the entire year even if the school closed for an extended period due to COVID-19. It’s a situation that will become more common as more kids return to child care and school.

In light of the shifting science related to kids and coronavirus, many parents aren’t willing to commit to a full year upfront. Others will have to pay for back-up child care when facilities close amid possible outbreaks, forcing parents like Ingrid to pay double.

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“Today they closed the school. That could go on — I don’t know how many days,Ingrid said.

CBS13 sent Ingrid’s contract to Consumer Attorney Stuart Talley.

“Do parents have to keep paying tuition if the school closes?” CBS13 Investigative Reporter Julie Watts asked.

“It depends on the contract,” Talley responded.

He pointed to standard private school and child care contracts that imply in-person learning and child care. Historically, most contracts don’t specifically reference payment requirements amid coronavirus or other closures. He says in those cases, a school that temporarily closes or transitions to distance learning could not likely hold parents to the contract if they are no longer providing in-person services.

“If the school doesn’t provide what they promised to provide, then there should be no obligation to pay tuition,” Talley said.

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But Ingrid’s preschool has a new COVID-era contract, promising “to continue classes online” even though the preschool is for the children ages two to five. “I think it’s hard to justify for a three-year-old,” Ingrid said.

“It’s kind of laughable to think you could provide distance learning for a three-year-old when what parents are paying for is physical child care,” Watts acknowledged when questioning Talley.

“I would agree,” Talley responded. “I mean, I don’t think they’re providing any service if it’s distance learning for a three-year-old.”

“But would the parent have to pay?” Watts asked.

“If the contract specifically says ‘in the event of COVID you still have to pay,’ then I think the parent would still be on the hook,” Talley said.

He says in Ingrid’s case, her only option is to choose another school. However, in this era of reduced class sizes and wide-spread waitlists, she says this is the only preschool in her area with an open spot. “I don’t have another choice.”

Julie Watts

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