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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Upper St Clair PA School Board Discontinues International Baccalaureate Program

Upper St Clair is a suburb of Pittsburgh, just next door to Mount Lebanon where a number of my mothers relatives live.


During this lull in the fight I want to thank you. If you have a moment please check out the headline of today's Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Your friend Julie Quist gets a quote. We are moving on. There is a meeting Thursday night to organize our efforts. My husband will be speaking on Edwatch and friends. So if you have anything else please let me know. The board meeting was a highly entertaining farce. There were over 1,000 people there. Many people spoke (I would guess about 60) Only one spoke against the program. She just happens to be the somewhat elderly head of our Republican National commitee. She has gone on record as suggesting that George Bush is not conservative enough. She would have preferred Pat Buchanan. ( I must remember to invite her to lunch!) Nothing would sway these people. We had leaders from every segment of the population speak out for the program. It fell completely on deaf ears. As usual in this type of situation it was the arrogance and egotistical behavior that made me seethe. Our Spanish language in the elementary years program is the next on the chopping block.

Sorry to take up more of your time.

Thank You!

I was very pleased to get a heads up on how this went.

Here's the Pittsburgh Post Gazette coverage of the board killing the IB program 5-4.

It's raising the question - Will Upper St Clair be the next Dover, Pennsylvania? From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial opposing this nonsense:

The world is flat, asserted New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman metaphorically but wisely in his best-seller of the same name -- and American children better be prepared to live in it. It is not a stretch to say that without international awareness and cultural sensitivity, the United States will lose the economic challenge and is doomed in the war on terror.

But some on the school board in Upper St. Clair would have students live in splendid isolation -- splendid, that is, only to those who fear the world. As it stands, nearly 700 students in the district are enrolled in the acclaimed International Baccalaureate program, which is followed by some of the best schools on the planet, 1,772 of them in 122 countries.

The existence of the program in Upper St. Clair is clearly a source of pride to many in the district, which isn't surprising. This is a well-regarded district that is full of smart and well-educated parents who know a good thing when they see it. Unbelievably, their vision is not shared by some members of the school board.

One has said that the baccalaureate program could be considered anti-American and is associated with groups that support Marxism. That's odd, because the Web site of the organization says this: "We encourage international-mindedness in IB students. To do this, we believe that students must first develop an understanding of their own cultural and national identity."

Another board member fears that it goes against traditional Judeo-Christian values -- a surprise to the folks over at Vincentian Academy, the respected Catholic school in the North Hills that also uses the program.

These critical sentiments have the breath of ignorance about them. Suddenly, we are no longer in Upper St, Clair but some place like rural Alabama, Kansas or Dover, Pa., where school board members may not know much about education but are certainly acquainted with their own small-minded agendas.

Those who would end this program for such reasons have it exactly wrong: The most anti-American thing is hostility to ideas. Those who think that the program can be cut for fiscal prudence sake ought to rethink their position, too. The program represents the sort of investment that is vital to America's success in a changed world.

This is the second dispute involving the school board in recent weeks; previously the district backed down on an attempt to restrict political activity for employees and students. It's encouraging to see that the good people of Upper St. Clair have been aroused. Some 300 parents and several dozen students showed up Thursday night at Upper St. Clair High School for a meeting.

A similar throng should attend tonight's school board meeting to make the point that know-nothings who would tarnish Upper St. Clair's reputation are not appreciated.

It sounds like the know-nothings won election. IB supporters are fighting back.

Parents in the Upper St. Clair School District are mobilizing for what could be an extended battle.

They've engaged lawyers and are forming committees and organizing protests to fight a decision Monday night by the school board to discontinue the district's International Baccalaureate program.

A planning meeting for parents is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow in the high school cafeteria.

On Monday night, the board voted 5-4 to stop the program, though students who are juniors and seniors now will be allowed to finish out the Diploma Program, which allows them to earn college credit. Students in the earlier years -- it runs from elementary through high school -- will not be permitted to continue.

There are 17 juniors scheduled to finish the program next year, said Dr. James D. Lombardo, Upper St. Clair's superintendent.

"We're just starting to work out the details," he said.

A letter will be sent home to parents of students in the International Baccalaureate program in the next few days explaining the process, Dr. Lombardo said.

Before Monday's meeting and vote, several members of the board majority spoke publicly against the program. Dr. Daniel Iracki, a medical doctor who specializes in pulmonary care and internal medicine, questioned if it conflicted with Judeo-Christian values. Another, Dr. Mark G. Trombetta, a radiation oncologist, had said it was associated with Marxism.

Dr. William Sulkowski, a dentist, said he believes the money spent each year on the program could be better used, and that he ran for school board pledging to be fiscally responsible.

Linda Ambroso doesn't accept any of those arguments. Her son is one of those who will not get to continue. He is in ninth grade and would have one more year to finish out the Middle Years Program.

"To 'grandfather in' just the juniors is unacceptable to a lot of people," Mrs. Ambroso said.

That's why many of the parents of the more than 700 students in the district who take International Baccalaureate classes are seeking legal advice.

"There's such a groundswell of anger of how the process was perverted in this case," Mrs. Ambroso said. "When people are angry, they don't talk, they go to lawyers."

Some are considering legal action -- Mrs. Ambroso said parents are wondering if canceling the program could be considered a breach of contract.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania also is organizing a legal team to figure out its next steps, said Witold Walczak, the legal director.

"We're looking at litigation options," said Mr. Walczak, who has a child in the program.

Parents are organizing a campaign to fight the decision. A list of grass-roots activities has been passed from parent to parent through e-mail in recent days.

Some of the ideas include taking a bus to Harrisburg to push for a law that would allow the recall of school board members; holding protests; and writing letters to the editor and letters to congressmen.

Reader comments are here.

Here's one:

Feb. 22

We live in a democracy. I can understand why the parents of the Upper St. Clair School District are distraught over the school board's decision to eliminate the International Baccalariate Programs in their schools. My husband and I would be right in there with those fighting to reverse the decision. However, I have some unpleasant and tough words for those affected. Where were you before last night's school board decision?

Across the country, school board members who came to the job with one agenda or another have gotten themselves elected and are in the process of realizing their ideological goals. The problem is that the students, parents, and tax payers of the district haven't been paying attention. I'm sorry to break it to them, but we live in a democracy. The freedoms that we cherish don't come for free. They require participation. They require an informed electorate. This is true for school board elections and national elections alike. Every day we see the sad and upsetting results of a dumbed-down public too busy and too absorbed in their own daily tasks to meet their fundamental responsibilities as citizens. (Ask the parents of Derry, Pa.)

Perhaps the people of Upper St. Clair are fortunate. They, at least, have now gotten the necessary wake-up call. Their ambivalence and lack of attention to the agendas of those running for the school board in recent elections has reaped a disastrous decision for their children and their community. I doubt that future school board candidates there will escape probing questions about their agendas and their views of current school standards and practices. In this regard Upper St. Clair will have learned their lesson long before most of us emerge from our complacency.

For nearly 40 years the well-educated, middle-to-upper class citizens of the United States have been shrouded in the "political correctness" methods of public discourse. This was effective as long as they were talking about race, class and gender issues. After all, to a great degree it was about "others". Unfortunately, they must now come full face with the fact that this same modus operandi will get them into a heap of trouble, close to home, when it comes to dealing with the ultra right Christian movement. The destructive force of these well-intentioned, but extraordinarily misguided, souls must not be underestimated. They have the capacity to bring us down. A quick historical review of the societal impact of ultra-conservative religious movements is in order.

Many of us are feeling a little panicked when we read about the decline in American education relative to other countries. We'd better be careful. Inside our own country are forces that, if unchecked, will accelerate the downward spiral, not in the inner cities, but in the prosperous suburban communities of our nation.

Diane Law, Churchill

That's why it's important to pay attention to school board races.