Can a Private School Withhold Transcripts for Non-Payment?

school transcript report card
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Can a private school withhold transcripts if your financial status is in question? Absolutely. Any infractions in regards to your financial status with the school, ranging from missed tuition payments, late payments, and even overdue fees or missing equipment that your student signed out but never returned can result in the school refusing to release a student's 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 a position of good-standing. 

Let's take a closer look at this issue and what it means for families and students.

Withholding Transcripts or Diplomas Holds Families Accountable for Their Financial Debts

The major reason why schools won't release a student's transcript record is that schools have no other way to make sure you pay your tuition and other school-related bills. It's just like a car loan. The bank loans you money to buy the car but the bank puts a lien on the title to the car 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 they have imparted on your child, they find 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 his or 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. The fact is, 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 no, you can't apply to college without a high school transcript. 

Is the Refusal to Release a Transcript Limited to Just Tuition? Can the School Withhold Transcripts or Diplomas for Other Financial Reasons?

Tuition is the most obvious reason why a school would withhold transcripts, but the reasons why might also include other payments like 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). Did you grant 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 held accountable financially, whether you approve of the purchases or not. All of these purchases and payments count towards ensuring that your student's account is in good standing before the transcripts will be released by the school.

But, I Didn't Know That the School Could Do That 

You say that you didn't know that? Unfortunately, yes, you most likely did, because you signed a statement or enrollment contract with the school that probably outlines those specific conditions. 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 that 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.

Why Is a Transcript Important?

A transcript is vitally important, as it is your record of proof that you 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 itself, using an official watermark or imprint on the transcript to ensure authenticity. And, it's often sent in a sealed and signed envelope. 

What Can I Do?

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

Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski - @stacyjago