COEUR d'ALENE - School board members in Coeur d'Alene voted unanimously Monday to terminate the Primary Years Programme at Hayden Meadows Elementary School on the last day of the 2012-13 school year.
A crowd of more than 100 people filled the Midtown Center for the 5 p.m. meeting, many of them standing for the 4-hour meeting. Others filled the foyer, unable to enter the packed meeting room.
The trustees made their decision to end the program after hearing testimony from 31 citizens. Of those who testified, 17 were in favor of retaining PYP, the elementary school level offering from the International Baccalaureate Organization. Another 11 individuals told the board they oppose the program's presence at Hayden Meadows.
The remaining three who testified asked the board to defer making a decision until they are able to poll the parents in the Hayden Meadows attendance zone.
"It is clear that due to the controversial nature of this program, it is causing such negative divisiveness in this community," said Trustee Terri Seymour, prior to the vote. "It is time to put it behind us. If Hayden Meadows desires to be a magnet school, it is time for them to focus on how to move forward with non- social, -philosophical programs that rigorously challenges the children and meets the needs of the parents who want higher level thinking schools, inquiry-based learning and any other focus that is appropriate for young children."
The IBO's educational programs have been at the center of public controversy for several years in the Coeur d'Alene School District. Opponents claim the IBO promotes a political, philosophical agenda while supporters, including parents and educators, embrace the program's teaching method and say they see strong results in their students.
Prior to the citizen testimony, Superintendent Hazel Bauman suggested the board consider offering PYP and a traditional learning school on different campuses within the same school zone. They could consider using the old Hayden Lake Elementary School, now the Kinder Center, to facilitate that, Bauman said.
She also cautioned the board that if they eliminate PYP, the parents who want the program will likely start a charter school, and they won't seek their charter from the school district, but rather from the state's charter commission in Boise.
Bauman said that by maintaining the program on a separate campus, the district could retain those students and the state funding they bring into the district. Bauman said if 22 students leave, the district would lose $80,000. If 100 kids left, it would be more than $400,000.
The trustees would also hold onto oversight over PYP in the district, Bauman said.
IB opponents, including some who spoke at Monday's meeting, take issue with the program's connection to the United Nations and UNESCO, and some of the language used by the program, and say it is contrary to the concept of "American exceptionalism."
"It's not the role of the schools to turn students into global citizens," said Trustee Ann Seddon.
Trustee Jim Purtee said there are many aspects of PYP that don't belong in public schools, and said it places "the state" in the position of teaching values to students.
"As a parent I would not be willing to relent to that invasion of parental rights and responsibilities. I would not be willing to hand over the imparting of my values to my children, to the state, or to a non-governmental agency based in a foreign land, governed by the laws of that land," Purtee said.
Parents and teachers who testified in favor of PYP reminded trustees that character traits, also values, are taught in all district schools.
Several teachers said they teach students that they are U.S. citizens first, and that they are part of a larger world.
"I don't think anyone is teaching that another country is better than ours," said Hayden Meadows educator Angie Phillips.
leaders, parents and teachers, including Steve Griffitts, director of Jobs Plus, spoke to the board. Griffitts, while not taking a stand, urged the trustees to move slowly before deciding whether to scrap PYP.
Griffitts also spoke of the economic impact of high quality education, "vibrant" education in the region. He said it's a big attraction for industries considering expansion in Kootenai County.
"If decisions are made with incomplete data and without due diligence, the decision is weak, and ultimately someone suffers," Griffitts said.
Ashlie Unruh, a parent who has spoken at several meetings, told the trustees that if they did make a quick decision, it would show they are biased.
Coeur d'Alene Tribe Chairman Chief Allan, who has children attending Hayden Meadows, told the board he is saddened by the controversy and possible removal of PYP.
Those who testified handed over about 630 signatures from an online petition in support of PYP.
After their decision to cancel the program, the trustees also approved a motion directing Superintendent Bauman to seek an alternative program that offers inquiry-based learning and other positive aspects of PYP.