More than 100 current and former Merrimack Valley and Bedford school district students, teachers and parents filled two rooms and the hallway outside to have their voice heard concerning House Bill 1403, which would effectively kill the International Baccalaureate (IB) program in New Hampshire.
Since Bedford and Merrimack Valley are the lone school districts to implement the program (Bedford offers IB courses in grades 11 and 12, and MV provides courses throughout its grades), the vast majority of those who spoke resided from those respective areas.
And while many of the dozens who spoke concentrated on the curriculum itself, the majority focused their comments on the ideal and meaning of "local control."
Even Sen. Ray White, R-District 9, - who said he felt ambushed by IB supporters at a school board meeting last month - concluded he would not support HB 1403 in its current state and urged his fellow senators to vote against it because he believes the legislation removes autonomy from individual school districts.
"I wasn't going to testify on this bill because I kind of consider myself an intellectual light weight when it comes to educational issues ... but I was urged to do so by many Bedford residents because this has kind of become the 'Bedford' bill, so to speak, to a lot of people," said White. "Like the rest of you senators, I represent many towns and I didn't hear one word of support for the IB curriculum from any of my towns except from Bedford, thus it would seem logical I would be in favor of HB 1403 ...
"But here's what it comes down to: if this committee believes it should be adopting a state-wide curriculum, then your choice should be obvious by the end of this hearing. You should support this bill," he continued. "But here's the problem. This should not be a discussion about the IB curriculum. In fact, I don't believe this committee or the state senate should be having curriculum discussions at all ... No matter how I feel about the IB curriculum decisions personally, I have always been consistent that curriculum decisions belong at the local level."
White spoke following Rep. Ralph Boehm - vice-chairman of the House Education Committee - who presented the bill at the hearing.
Boehm stressed the fact that IB is connected to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and noted payments and disputes involving IB are directed to Geneva, Switzerland, where IBO is headquartered. He also cited U.S. law which states no funds can be given to UNESCO.
Dave Murray, a Bedford parent who has students who have taken both IB and AP courses, said he opposes IB and supports HB 1403 as it currently stands.
"Really, I think my focus on the bill and why I support it is this concept of who controls what is going on in our schools. IB is the topic of the day, but it could be the Catholic Church or any other type of foreign organization, that the school board decides to sign us up for a program that's run or operated internationally. I think that's really something we need to look at across the state," said Murray, who noted while each district deserves a large measure of control, it's important to have some state and federally mandated guidelines in place to establish a standard for education throughout the U.S. and New Hampshire.
There were others, still, like BHS junior Michael Courtney, who pleaded with the committee to vote against the bill.
"Let's admit that the sole purpose of this hearing has nothing to do with the merits or criticisms of the IB program, but rather if the curriculum represents a threat to the sovereignty of New Hampshire," said Courtney. "If I may speak for my fellow classmates, it's safe to say we're here today because we believe in the IB program and all it it stands for ... what really worries me whether the act of the legislature in passing this bill into law represents a threat to the sovereignty of the local communities of new Hampshire after we have researched, scrutinized voted upon, implemented and reassessed our own school curriculum."
Dozens of supporters and opponents followed, offering similar sentiments, and an amendment was offered by the NH House Education Committee which essentially calls for a study committee on the issue.
The senate education committee will move into executive session to discuss the bill and likely pass down its recommendation on the bill, amended or not.