Parents Lose Legal Custody of Home-Schooled Children

The Massachusetts Department of Social Services took legal custody of two children, not because of any allegation of abuse or neglect, but because their parents were deemed “unfit” relating to home-schooling their children.

Parents Lose Legal Custody of Home-Schooled Children

To the consternation of officials from the Waltham Public Schools and the Massachusetts town’s Department of Social Services (DSS), Kim and George Bryant decided to home-school their son, Nick, and daughter, Nyssa.

This decision ignited a legal fight between the local government and the Bryants that lasted over six years and became so contentious that the DSS took legal custody of the children.

The DSS was awarded legal custody of the Bryant children after the school district obtained a court ruling in 2001 stating the Bryants were “unfit” parents because they didn’t file an educational plan or grading system meeting school district approval. The Bryants countered that their plan was very similar to one accepted for a familyin Framingham, another eastern Massachusetts school district.

Nonetheless, Kim and George were determined to be in “educational neglect” of their children, and the DSS was awarded legal custody of Nick and Nyssa. The children, however, continued to live with their parents and Bryants continued to provide and pay for all of the children’s expenses. At no point did the DSS offer or provide any services. George Bryant explained, “DSS did virtually nothing to support the ‘health’ of my family,” while claiming legal custody of the children. Both sides additionally agree the children were never abused mentally, physically, sexually or emotionally by their parents.

On June 12, 2003, DSS officials and four police officers arrived at the Bryant home at 7:45 am and ordered the children be taken to a hotel, where they would be given a standardized test. DSS worker Susan Etscovitz charged: “We have legal custody of the children and will do with them what we see fit… They are minors and they do what we tell them to do.”

After the DSS failed to convince Nick and Nyssa to go to the hotel to sit for the test, the Framingham Juvenile Court issued a same-day ruling ordering their parents to take them. At the hotel, the children continued to refuse to take the test. Nyssa said, “We don’t want to take the test. We have taken them before, and I don’t think that they are a fair assessment of what we know.” George Bryant echoed his daughter’s complaint, saying, “Private school students do not take standardized tests. Why should our children be subjected to this, against their will?” He added: “We do not believe in assessing our children based on a number or letter. Their education process is their personal intellectual property.” Surprisingly, Waltham School Superintendent Susan Parrella provided support to the Bryants’ cause when she weighed in on the matter in quote to a local newspaper: “An acceptable home school plan is in place right now. I was not aware of any testing occurring today.”

Nonetheless, a court hearing to determine whether a complete transfer of custody of the Bryant children to the DDS would take place due to their noncompliance was scheduled for the next day. But the hearing was later postponed indefinitely. George Bryant commented, “We were told [Thursday] that we must show up [Friday]. Several hours later we received a note in our door from DSS saying that it will be discussed at a later time.” Since the issue was left unresolved, the Bryants were burdened for some time by the possibility that DSS officials and police officers would arrive at their door to demand their compliance with school district regulations, or perhaps to take the children to foster homes.

The Bryant case may be an extreme example, but home-schooling families in the Bay State often face hostile local governments. Scott Somerville, a staff attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association, notes “Massachusetts is a barbaric [state] for homeschoolers.”

While Nick continued to be home-schooled, Nyssa chose to enroll in a public high school in the neighboring Belmont Public School District in the fall of 2003. To facilitate her placement, Kim compiled a transcript highlighting the work Nyssa completed during her home schooling. As a result of her past educational achievement, Nyssa began high school a grade above most students in her age group. She made the school’s highest honor roll every semester.

Sources: (June 18, 2003), WorldNetDaily (June 2003 coverage),, Talon News (June 17, 2003), GOPUSA News (June 17, 2003),,, Home School Legal Defense Association, Kim Bryant, George Greeley Bryant

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