Ask the Rov: If my child’s school is shut, but they are offering virtual classes, do I have to continue paying full tuition?
By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin, Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah.
When unforeseeable circumstances arise that prevent an employee from continuing his work (e.g. a child fell ill, RL, during the year and cannot attend classes with his private tutor), the employer need not pay. Since we are uncertain who is at fault for not including a stipulation about this in the contract, the one holding the money (muchzak) keeps it. Thus, if the employer didn’t pay yet, he need not pay, but if the wages were already paid, the employee need not return them.
If the issue should have stipulated by the employer (e.g. the father knew the child was prone to become ill), he must bear the loss and pay the worker—either in full or with a deduction for the absence of actual labor (poel batel).
Is an employee who was given head checks in advance considered a muchzak? Does a check have actual monetary value or is it merely a directive to the bank? Since you can cancel a check if you don’t receive the service you paid for, the one holding head checks cannot be considered a muchzak.
When the employee can’t work due to a regional disaster (makas medina) which prevents the teacher from teaching (i.e. a decree),4 some hold that the employer (i.e. parent) must bear the loss as well and pay either in full or half, while others hold he is not bound by any agreement and need not pay.
The Nesivos rules that even if you need not pay a regular employee during a regional disaster, you must pay a Torah teacher who cannot teach Torah. A teacher’s payment isn’t for teaching—which is meant to be for free—rather for watching or entertaining the kids, and he is still available to do that.
In the current global calamity, although schools are physically closed, many are offering virtual forms of classes. Some contemporary dayanim compare this to a teacher making himself available, and for many teachers the actual work is even harder. Parents can deduct the fees for missing expenses like electricity, but not for the rent of the school building since it is typically a yearly commitment.
Other dayanim contend that the virtual learning is an entirely new schooling which the parents did not sign up for. Thus, the parents can decide not to sign up, but if they do, they must pay whatever the school is charging. Whenever two views exist, the one in possession of the money can side with the view beneficial for him (“kim li”).
Notably, the Chasam Sofer writes that he personally paid his workers in full in the case of a regional disaster and as a rule, he encourages the parties to compromise. Ultimately, he writes, it depends on each local beis din who knows the local needs and the school’s finances to set a policy.