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October 1, 2014

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Education:

Parents, read fine print in school contracts

Hebrew Academy in Summerlin, for example, can prohibit parents’ campus access, as one family discovered

Image

Leila Navidi

Roslyn and Toby Goldman enrolled their three children, from left, Elana, 11, Shira, 6, and Jonah, 9, in public school after they severed ties with the Hebrew Academy.

Most parents shopping for a private school look for the best match for their child’s learning style and academic goals. But as the experience of Roslyn Goldman shows, it’s just as important that parents find a good fit for themselves.

Goldman’s personality conflicts with staff at the Milton I. Schwartz Hebrew Academy led to the withdrawal of her three children from the Summerlin school six weeks into the 2007-08 school year, costing the family $30,000 in tuition.

Goldman had occasionally clashed with teachers and administrators during the two years her children attended the academy.

She acknowledged that she didn’t hesitate to speak up when she saw favoritism, including students being excused from the dress code. She told school officials she thought it was inappropriate for her daughter’s fourth grade class to participate in a co-ed campus sleepover.

“I would ask questions,” Goldman said. “They would tell me I was too nitpicky.”

The conflict came to a head in October 2007, when Goldman said she was wrongly accused of bullying a student who had been her daughter’s close friend before the girls had a falling-out. An academy administrator told Goldman that she was no longer allowed on campus, and that someone else would have to pick up and drop off her children.

There is disagreement over how long Goldman was to stay away.

She believed her removal was permanent. The school said it was temporary.

Regardless, because the work schedule of Goldman’s husband, Toby, made it impossible for him to drop off and pick up the children, the family had no choice but to withdraw from the school, she said.

The Goldmans sued, seeking a tuition refund. The case was sent to arbitration this year and in a Feb. 12 decision, the arbitrator sided with the school on grounds that the Goldmans had signed a contract stating tuition was nonrefundable.

Through their attorney, Hebrew Academy officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The Hebrew Academy enrollment contract states that the school “reserves the right to review a parent’s relationship … and to set reasonable conditions for access to the school.” Students can be removed if their parents “fail to support the enforcement of proper behavior, are uncooperative, are abusive to school administrators or staff, or who, in the Hebrew Academy’s opinion, will not be satisfied with the school’s best efforts.”

Roslyn Goldman said the school’s decision was personal — not policy.

“It was a witch hunt,” she said. “They were just waiting for me to do something that would be enough for them to say, ‘You’re done.’ ”

Enrollment contracts for the private Meadows and Alexander Dawson schools include an “at will” clause, which can be used to remove a student or parent at any time. The contracts also state that tuition is nonrefundable.

Carolyn Goodman, the Meadows president and founder, said in the school’s 25-year history, no student has been removed because of a parent’s bad behavior.

There have been close calls.

“We’ve been pushed quite frequently by parents,” Goodman said. “But we met with them and let them know their behavior is overbearing and must cease.”

The arbitrator conceded in his decision on the Goldman case that it was a “harsh result” and “the episode that initiated the problem was not entirely Mrs. Goldman’s fault.” But “the budgeting and planning functions of small institutions depend upon there being some level of financial certainty,” the arbitrator stated.

Roslyn Goldman said her children are flourishing at neighborhood public schools, where her involvement is welcomed.

“I love public schools because there are rules,” Goldman said. “And they are fair to everybody.”

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