After fleeing New York for their second homes, some of the wealthiest families in the U.S. are paying to reserve spots in the city’s elite schools — even though their children may not show up in the fall.

One Upper East Side mom said she has paid full tuition — more than $50,000 per child — to Manhattan private schools for her kids, while also enrolling them in public school two thousand miles away out West, where the family is currently staying.

When she has more clarity on the situation, the mom said, she wants her children back in Manhattan classrooms, whether that happens in October or March. Until then, she hopes they will perhaps Zoom in to join friends in New York for homeroom once a week, and also attend in-person classes at the public school.

In the rarefied world of New York City private schools, where tuition can rival that at an Ivy League college, the process of securing entry has always been fraught with anxiety. This year, after pandemic-related lockdowns sent families scurrying to places like the Hamptons or Florida, many are contemplating whether they should stay outside the city and risk losing a coveted spot.

The answer seems to be to spend enough to cover all options, with some families telling administrators they are putting down nonrefundable deposits at more than one school. Meanwhile, faced with the prospect that their sought-after seats may eventually not be filled, some schools are making unusual moves in a bid to shield themselves from the upheaval. 

“A lot of people are just hedging their bets,” said Fanning Hearon, who is head of school at Palm Beach Day Academy in Florida, where a number of New York families applied. On Wednesday alone, Hearon had three students confirm enrollment while two others dropped out.

At Grace Church School in New York’s Greenwich Village, where tuition is $53,330, about 4% of families said they don’t expect to be back for the upcoming year, despite putting down deposits of $6,000 per child, said George Davison, the head of the school, which has 780 students in grades pre-K through 12. Those families received permission not to pay the full amount, and if they don’t return the following year, they forfeit their deposit, he said. The school has granted this option regularly before.

Parents can pay $8,500 — about 15% of the cost of tuition — to take a year’s break from Avenues: The World School, while reserving their spot for fall 2021. Scores of families expressed interest in the online-only program at Avenues, which opened a location in the Hamptons this year, school president Jeff Clark said.

Often, private schools require deposits in February or March depending on the child’s grade, and many need a payment due by July 1. This year, administrators at four schools told Bloomberg they are giving parents extra time to make up their minds.

The indecision is exacerbating challenges the schools are facing. Parents who have paid to reserve spaces at two institutions have created logistical headaches for administrators who have to hire teachers, set up classes and plan. “Schools don’t even know if they’re officially going to be coming back,” said Roxana Reid, an admissions consultant who founded Smart City Kids Inc.

First « 1 2 » Next