Parents accuse Balmoral Hall of hefty, unfair bills after withdrawing before school starts

Parents accuse Balmoral Hall of hefty, unfair bills after withdrawing before school starts

A group of parents say a prominent private school in Winnipeg was not transparent with them about the thousands of dollars they would owe should they decide to withdraw their daughters from the school.

“If we don’t fight for this, there’ll be more parents like me in the future,” said Yu Wang. The father claims he had no idea that when he registered his daughter at Balmoral Hall School, he could be on the hook for $8,600 even if he cancelled enrolment months before the start of class.

“If they told us about this, we would never [have] signed up or enrolled.”

In February, Wang and his wife enrolled their four-year-old daughter, Ella, in Balmoral Hall’s kindergarten program. After touring the not-for-profit school and doing interviews, the couple received an acceptance email which included usernames and passwords to login to Balmoral Hall’s online parents’ portal and complete the registration process.

“We thought it is very straightforward and simple. Just information collection,” Wang said.

The process ended with a prompt asking for Wang’s credit card information. He was billed a $2,000 non-refundable registration fee, along with an additional $2,000 non-refundable tuition deposit that he wasn’t expecting but paid anyway.

“It’s mandatory. We don’t got the option to not pay it,” he said.

Balmoral Hall School is an all-girls, not-for-profit private school in Winnipeg’s West Broadway neighbourhood. Tuition there ranges between $13,905 and $18,025. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

A few weeks later, Ella was accepted into a second private school, St. John’s-Ravenscourt. The parents decided to send their only child to SJR because the school bus arrived an hour later, giving their daughter more time to sleep. In April, the couple formally withdrew from Balmoral Hall. 

That’s when Wang says he was hit with a big surprise. He learned he would not be receiving his tuition deposit back as he had assumed and Balmoral needed an additional $4,600 from him. As was laid out in the school’s enrolment contract, Balmoral Hall was billing him for roughly 49 per cent of the school’s tuition, even though he was withdrawing four months before the start of class.

“I was mad,” said Wang. “To me, I feel, this is wrong.”

The school informed Wang that during what he thought was a simple registration process, he had actually signed an online enrolment contract where he had agreed to pay Balmoral Hall between 40 and 100 per cent of the next year’s tuition (which for elementary students is $13,500 per year). There was no safe withdrawal date to cancel enrolment without facing significant financial penalties.

To me, I feel, this is wrong.– Yu Wang, father who enrolled his daughter in Balmoral Hall School

The school wanted a total amount of $8,600 from him — $2,000 for the registration, a $2,000 tuition deposit and $4,600 in additional tuition, which when combined with the deposit equals 48.9 per cent of Balmoral Hall’s tuition. 

Any outstanding, unpaid fees would be subject to annual interest at 19.56 per cent, he learned. The school said it would “pursue collection legally” if he didn’t clear the balance.

“All they have been doing is sending me bills, weekly,” said Wang, who runs a marketing firm that specializes in helping business reach customers in Winnipeg’s Chinese community.

“I’m a business person and we do things very carefully. We read almost every line that night when we register in front of the computer and we didn’t know.”

Contract very clear, says school

Joy Loewen, a past chair of the Balmoral Hall board, current board member and former parent, said the school strives to be flexible with parents and has a “a very long, thoughtful, careful process of enrolment.”

Joy Loewen, a past chair of Balmoral Hall School’s board, said the school’s enrolment process is careful and thoughtful. She said the enrolment contract required by parents to sign is clear. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

“The enrolment process is multi-step and does include a clear contract. Once signed by both parents, the girl is then enrolled in the school. They’re considered enrolled in the school and we hold a seat,” she said.

“Once the contract has been signed, we then make plans, as a school.”

Loewen said there is no mistaking the contract and signature process — there is a line and parents type out their names in the same area they would sign if they were filling out a paper contract. Parents have the ability to read the contract fully before signing, she said.

While Loewen said the contract is clear, she said the school can “always work to improve our communications.”

Wang and the other parents CBC spoke with said they have no memory of entering an electronic signature. Wang only remembers clicking “next” several times and entering personal information, including uploading his daughter’s birth certificate.

“I remember clearly that when we finished the registration, the only place that asked for a name … asked for parents’ name and that’s where we filled our name. But we didn’t know that that name is used for this contract,” he said.

Families organizing, speaking to lawyer

Using the Chinese social media network WeChat, Wang has connected with seven other families with similar experiences at Balmoral Hall, he said. A lawyer with Zaifman Immigration Lawyers is now speaking with the families who hope legal advice might help them get their money back or avoid paying the school’s fines.

Li Huang, a Winnipeg bank teller, said she and her husband enrolled their daughter, Charlotte, at Balmoral Hall’s private daycare earlier this year.

When the couple withdrew in July for personal reasons, Huang expected to get $2,700 back. Instead, the school said she actually owed them $1,900. Huang had already paid the school $4,700 to secure a daycare spot for Charlotte. All that money was gone.

“My daughter hasn’t begun her school, even for one day,” said Huang. “It’s totally unacceptable.”

Another parent, Cindy Li, who said she initially wanted to re-enrol her daughter at Balmoral Hall after she had a positive experience in its daycare, decided to withdraw her daughter from Balmoral Hall’s kindergarten program last year because her daughter developed a health issue.

The pharmacy technician was also taken aback when she found out how much the school said she owed.

“I was regretting to death when I found out,” she said.

Li ended up paying the school $4,500 on top of the $2,000 deposit because she feared the school would take her to court and she was busy raising two young children.

“I had enough trouble so was like, ‘OK, I will just work extra to pay you.'”

CBC asked Balmoral Hall if the school could create a mock account to show what parents see when they enrol their children. Spokesperson Jennifer Pawluk declined CBC’s request, saying it is a process that’s “difficult to replicate.”

“I can now confirm that only parents/guardians, employees and students of Balmoral Hall School are able to access our intranet,” Pawluk wrote in an email.

Yu Wang said he wants the best education possible for his only child, four-year-old Ella. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

School makes website changes

The tuition and fees page on Balmoral Hall School has been changed a number of times in recent years.

A 2016 version captured on the internet archive website, Way Back Machine, shows the website once spelled out the liabilities facing prospective parents who enrol their daughters at the school. The page said parents could be asked to pay up to 100 per cent of tuition.

That year, however, it was only parents who dropped out after May 2, 2016, who would have to pay part or all of the next year’s tuition, on top of the non-refundable tuition deposit. 

By April 2018, the website had been changed again. The update removed any mention of the additional tuition liabilities on the tuition and fees page and removed mention of a grace period for parents wishing to withdraw their daughters.

A screen grab of the Balmoral Hall School website Yu Wang said he saved in April 2018 lacks any mention of the portion of tuition liabilities facing parents. (Supplied by Yu Wang/Balmoral Hall School)

Wang said it was only after he complained that the school changed the tuition and fees website again to include a link to the contract parents sign which includes a mention of the additional tuition liability. As of Aug. 16, 2018, the website did not mention withdrawing parents could be billed more tuition on top of the $2,000 deposit.

When CBC asked Balmoral Hall about the website changes, spokesperson Pawluk said the school’s website is “dynamic” and “we are always updating it to keep it current.”

After CBC requested information from Balmoral Hall on Friday, Aug. 10, about Wang’s concerns, the school sent him a letter Aug. 13 saying they had found another student to fill Ella’s spot and did not require him to pay the $4,600 in additional tuition, on top of the $4,000 he paid in February.

Wang still believes he is owed the $2,000 tuition deposit he paid in February but hasn’t yet decided if he will take legal action.

A screen grab of Balmoral Hall School’s website from Aug. 16, 2018, shows a new button was added that links to a contract which includes information about tuition liability facing parents. (Balmoral Hall School)

Published at Fri, 17 Aug 2018 06:00:12 -0400