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May 14. 2012 10:44PM

Senate to weigh in on international program

CONCORD — The fate of Bedford High School's International Baccalaureate (IB) program is in the hands of the state Senate, as it votes this week on a bill targeting the curriculum.

House Bill 1403 would block school districts from using education programs that “are subject to the governance of a foreign body or organization.”

The bill is aimed at IB, which critics say is linked to the United Nations and promotes teaching that undermines American history and values.

The Senate Education Committee, however, has taken a dim view of the measure, voting 5-0 to kill the bill.

The full Senate is expected to vote Wednesday on the bill, which passed in the House in March.

The Senate vote comes after a hearing earlier this month in which scores of Bedford High students lined up to defend the program. Joined by teachers and parents, they argued that IB provides enhanced global understanding and said the bill would violate local school board control.

In addition, Bedford school officials testified that they do not answer to foreign officials in how the curriculum is used, and that it does not come at the expense of American history requirements.

In much smaller numbers, parents and students spoke in support of the bill.

The central issue for the Senate Education Committee was the question of foreign governance, according to member Sen. Russell Prescott, R-Kingston, who consulted with state Department of Education officials about IB and other such programs.

“I found no instances where the state is going to lose authority or a town is going to be treated any differently whether they're in IB or any other program,” he said. “Since there really isn't a problem, it really is a local control issue at that point.”

About 300 students participate in the IB program at Bedford High, which is offered as a college preparatory track for juniors and seniors.

Merrimack Valley started using the curriculum this year in its five elementary schools.

The IB debate has roiled Bedford and become a heated topic on local TV, radio and websites, with some residents accusing the program of promoting — and administrators of condoning — activism among the students, including their attendance at the Senate committee hearing earlier this month.

In making the case that it promotes anti-American ideas, critics of IB point to its founding in Geneva, Switzerland, under United Nations auspices, and its continued relationship with UNESCO.

The IB organization offers curricula for grades K-12 in more than 3,300 schools in 141 countries, with the stated goal of creating “a better world through intercultural understanding,” according to its website.


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