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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Sawyer

The First September of This Kind

Updated: Feb 24, 2021

Dear Friends,

Writing my annual “back to school” letter feels very different this year from most. Here on the east coast of the US, the cicada song is waning, chanting the arrival of Fall and the beginning of the real new year—the return to routine after the slower days of August. Yes, the moment when we all buckle down again, usually marked for me by the reappearance of book bags in my front hallway, school busses coughing their way down the street, lunch boxes needing to be filled in the morning, the clutter of soccer cleats tripping me as I make my way to the front door. This year, the return has been quieter, less obtrusive, devoid of fanfare, and it all feels very different.

As we all know, education around the world has been turned upside down in 2020, and we’re all waiting to see what will come of it. While some schools have opened for in-person teaching at relatively full capacity, others have “opened” online, and what that means varies from school to school. Additionally, many schools have chosen the “hybrid” route, and parents are scrambling to remember which days their children attend school in person and figure out how to transport them, since bussing may not be an option; and then there are those parents who have found themselves literally trying to create their own mini-preschools or “pods” with other families who share their desire to devise in-person education for their children.

Embedded in all of this are many financial and policy matters—some private schools have offered partial refunds when their program has gone online, while others have insisted on original tuition rates. US colleges and universities that have reversed plans to open for in-person classes are having to refund the room and board portion of tuition, and many are wondering how they will survive in the long run.

Meanwhile, employers find themselves suddenly confronted with a host of new questions to answer as they strive to support their employees and preserve the ability of their workforce to focus on their jobs. This is particularly the case when employers have relocated an employee to a new location and schooling is a key component of making an assignment viable and productive. Now, as possible assignees consider a posting in another country, one of the first questions they ask is about schooling and how re-opening has worked in the new location; and if options at home look better, they hesitate more than ever to move their children.

In many instances, therefore, employers find themselves considering new policies related to education support as they to try to address the challenges currently faced by their international assignees. Should they pay the deposit for an international school, for example, if the employee isn’t 100% sure that she will take an assignment slated to start three months from now? And what about the assignee who moved to the US last spring who is threatening to go home because the US district where his children are enrolled is online again this Fall, but schooling back in home country is in person--should they offer financial support for the hiring of in-person tutors? And if so, what kind of precedent will this set vis a vis benefits offered to other employees?

Here at Bennett, we’re working with families in all kinds of situations as they struggle to ensure the continuity of their children’s education, whether they’re relocating to another country or simply not happy with what their current school is offering. We’re also receiving a lot of questions from our corporate clients about how to protect the investment they’ve made in assignees—how to figure out the education piece of an assignment and where the support can fit into policy.

In response, we will be hosting a webinar at 11am ET on Wednesday, September 23rd, (to register, please click here) to discuss the challenges currently faced by our clients and their assignees and to share some thoughts on how to tackle them. We’ll also highlight things for employers to consider as they decide what kind and how much support to offer. We hope you’ll join us.

In the meantime, I wish you well, wherever you may be, and hope that the “back to school” reality for those close to you has been a workable one. Maybe, eventually, we’ll look back on 2020 as the year when education around the world took a turn towards the more creative and progressive, but for now, I’m enjoying nostalgia about the old routine—the clear end of a school day marked by kids tumbling in the door with a bookbag, soccer gear and stories of classmates and teachers. I have no doubt that I’ll adjust--we always do.

With best wishes to all,



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