Can a Private School Withhold Transcripts for Nonpayment?

school transcript report card
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A private school can withhold transcripts if your financial status is in question. Any infractions in regard to your financial status with the school, ranging from missed tuition payments, late payments, and even overdue fees or missing equipment that your child signed out but never returned, can result in the school refusing to release her academic records.

The same thing happens in colleges for students who default on their tuition payments and/or student loans; these elite academic institutions withhold the student's academic transcripts until payments have been made and the account is returned to good standing. 

It's important to examine this issue and what it means for families and students.

Holding Families Accountable

The major reason why schools won't release a student's transcript record is that they have no other way to ensure that you pay your tuition and other school-related bills. It's similar to a car loan. The bank loans you money to buy the car, but the bank puts a lien on the vehicle so that you cannot sell it without the bank's permission. If you stop making payments, the bank can, and most likely will, take back the car.

Since a school can't take back the knowledge and experiences it has imparted on your child, it has another way to hold the family accountable for the financial debt that remains to be paid. It doesn't matter if your child is the top of her class, a starting player on a varsity team, or the star of the next school play. The business office is, necessarily, blind to the fact that you're applying to college and need transcripts released.

If a debt remains to be paid, your child's transcript or academic record is held hostage until all of your financial accounts are paid in full. And you can't apply to college without a high school transcript. 

Reasons Schools Withhold Transcripts

Unpaid tuition is the most obvious reason why a school would withhold transcripts. Other reasons can include unpaid athletics and arts-related fees, testing fees, school store bills, book purchases, and any financial debts incurred on a student's account. Even overdue library books or missing sports uniforms could result in your transcript being withheld (though not all schools will go quite this far).

You may have given your child permission to use the school account to do laundry, buy items at the school store, purchase food at the snack center, or charge fees for after-school trips and weekend activities. If your child has racked up the charges, you are accountable financially, even if you did not approve specific purchases. All of these purchases and payments count toward ensuring that your student's account is in good standing before the school will release his transcripts.

The Contract Spells It Out

You signed a statement or enrollment contract with the school that likely outlines specific financial responsibilities. Some schools may list this directly on the enrollment agreement, or the contract might include a clause that holds the family accountable for all policies put forth in the student and parent handbook.

Some schools also have a handbook that has a separate form you sign acknowledging that you have read and understood the handbook and all policies and procedures outlined within it. Either way, if you read the fine print, you will likely see specific verbiage that describes what happens if you default on your financial account, withdraw your child, or refuse to pay any indebtedness to the school.

Importance of Transcripts

A transcript is important, as it is your child's proof that she attended high school and successfully completed the course of study required for matriculation. Employers, colleges and graduate schools will require a certified copy of a high school transcript for verification purposes.

Submitting report cards will not suffice, and the transcripts often have to be sent directly to the requesting party by the school, using an official watermark or imprint on the transcript to ensure authenticity. It's often sent in a sealed and signed envelope. 

What You Can Do

The only thing to do is honor your agreement and make good on your financial account. Schools will often work with families that require more time to settle their debts, such as working out payment plans. Legal action likely won't get you far, either, as you have signed a legally binding document that clearly states you are financially responsible for all debts regarding your child. 

Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski