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Tuition refunds not in cards at Las Vegas Valley private schools

Some Las Vegas Valley private schools are offering more financial aid for families in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, but they aren’t providing tuition refunds for the months when students were home with their parents.

The schools say they are taking steps to help families feeling a financial strain from the outbreak, such as offering tuition deferrals or credits, boosting financial aid awards and creating emergency funds.

The Meadows School in Summerlin — which has about 850 students in preschool through 12th grades — is giving a tuition grant to every returning student for next school year, regardless of need, using part of its strategic reserves. And a new Meadows Community Relief Fund — created using donations — totals more than $180,000.

“We’ve seen people deeply affected by this, but we’ve also seen an outpouring of support,” Head of School Jeremy Gregersen said.

Both public and private kindergarten through 12th grade schools were ordered closed by Gov. Steve Sisolak in mid-March because of the COVID-19 outbreak, and distance learning continued for the rest of the school year. Most private schools provided remote instruction daily to students until summer break.

Seeking government assistance

Some private schools in the Las Vegas Valley have sought government assistance. Some have applied for a loan through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program — part of the federal CARES Act.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas, which operates a handful of schools in the valley, went through the application process and had “a successful outcome,” spokeswoman Rachel Wilkinson wrote in a May 6 email to the Review-Journal. She declined to provide a dollar amount.

The Meadows School also is looking into government assistance, Gregersen said.

The Alexander Dawson School in Summerlin opted not to apply for government aid “that we know many other schools desperately need,” spokeswoman Megan Gray wrote in an email to the Review-Journal.

Nationwide, tuition covers an average of 77 percent of operating costs at independent day schools, according to the National Association of Private Schools. The rest is often brought in through fundraising, endowments and programs such as after-school care.

Private schools tend to be at risk of closure when there’s an economic downturn, according to Florida-based nonprofit Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas

The diocese has a total of about 3,900 students at six elementary/middle schools and one high school, Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas.

No students have withdrawn because of the COVID-19 outbreak, and the number of requests for financial assistance has been “very low,” Superintendent Catherine Thompson said in early May.

The diocese isn’t offering deferral for tuition payments and doesn’t have plans to increase the amount of scholarship money offered, she said.

One parent at Our Lady of Las Vegas School, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she fears retribution from administrators against her elementary school-age daughter, told the Review-Journal she contacted the school with her concerns about paying tuition during the COVID-19 outbreak.

She said her family can afford tuition but argued that she did about 90 percent of the teaching during remote instruction. She also said she bought supplies — such as paint — so her daughter could complete assignments, even though they already paid a supply fee to the school at the beginning of the year.

Parents lose out during remote instruction, but the school doesn’t, she said, noting the school isn’t offering anything for parents except a credit for prepaid lunch fees.

At Our Lady of Las Vegas School, tuition for next school year ranges from $5,150 to $6,915 per child, depending on the grade level and whether it’s the parish or non-parish rate. There are discounted rates for families who have multiple children enrolled.

In an April 23 letter to parents posted on the school’s website, Principal Phyllis Joyce wrote that the school can offer extensions on tuition if needed but added, “I cannot excuse families for April and May as some have requested.”

Meadows School

The school’s board approved a $2,500 tuition grant for every returning student for next school year, regardless of need. Half-day students would receive $1,250 and students already receiving financial aid would get a prorated portion of the $2,500 grant.

The school is encouraging families who don’t need financial help to return the grant to the school as a tax-deductible donation.

The private school also issued a prorated refund to families for spring after-school and aftercare programs and refunded lunch money.

Gregersen said the impact of COVID-19 on the school’s families is mixed. “I think the outbreak is hitting some people really hard, understandably so, and there are some folks that are more insulated,” he said.

Some families have contacted the school asking for assistance, Gregersen said. “We want all of our families back. We’ve asked people to reach out to us with their concerns.”

Tuition for next school year ranges from $10,900 for half-day preschool to $28,360 for high school grades.

Alexander Dawson School

The Alexander Dawson School, which has 512 students in preschool through eighth grades, is giving out more financial aid, allowing a June tuition payment for next school year to be deferred to July 1 without penalty and giving preschool families a prorated tuition credit.

The school also is launching a new initiative this summer to provide free tutoring for four weeks — starting in June — to hundreds of high-achieving CCSD students in kindergarten through eighth grades. There will also be a separate summer program for Dawson’s returning and new students.

The Alexander Dawson Foundation is funding an “incredibly robust as-needed financial aid program” for current and new students for next school year, Head of School Carola Wittmann wrote in an April 17 letter to parents.

The foundation didn’t set a dollar amount or put a cap on the amount of money it will distribute in needs-based financial aid, Assistant Head of School Andrew Bishop said.

Bishop said the school has fielded calls from parents about tuition but hasn’t been inundated with requests.

Tuition for next school year will range from $13,380 for half-day preschool to $26,260 for fifth through eighth grades.

Some families may not be feeling the economic impact of COVID-19 now, he said, but are worried about the future. “None of us have a crystal ball for what the next six to 12 weeks — or even months — are going to look like,” he said.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the number of high schools operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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