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The future of the International Baccalaureate program at Bentonville High School is fair game for conversations about efficiency and effectiveness, just like any other program a school system offers its students.

The program is designed to be a rigorous curriculum to meet the needs of college-bound and highly motivated students by developing critical thinking skills. Since its introduction in Bentonville in 2007, though, the school board has from time to time questioned whether its enrollment numbers reflect a program worth keeping or one worth giving up on.

What’s the point?

A school board should leap at a chance to let a student speak about an issue it’s discussing.

Fair enough. Three years ago, board President Travis Riggs said he'd "been patient for four or five years waiting for this to grow." Last week, in a renewed discussion about the program, Riggs reiterated his "struggle" with the fact less than 1 percent of the district's students are enrolled in the program.

Naturally, a program designed to challenge the cream of the intellectual crop would be unlikely to attract masses of students. Administrators said the International Baccalaureate program helps Bentonville compete for high-performing students who have other options nearby.

The program cost $287,227 last school year, when 17 students earned an International Baccalaureate diploma. The classes are available to others and 237 individual students took the classes last year.

Its value is a discussion worth having, so board member Brent Leas thought it made sense to invite an International Baccalaureate student in the meeting's audience to the microphone to describe her experience in the program. And you know what? It did make perfect sense.

So Riggs, who presides over the school board meetings, rejected Leas' request. He said he wasn't comfortable pulling people from the audience for discussions.

So much for critical thinking.

We get the need for a certain formality in public meetings. Without it, a meeting can quickly get out of hand and just become a shouting match. If you need evidence of that, visit any number of the city council meetings in the small towns around Northwest Arkansas.

But parliamentary formalities are not meant and should not be a barrier between the school board and the very people it is supposed to serve.

Hearing from a student? How radical is that?

Indeed, the people in that audience Riggs is so concerned about letting into the proceedings are exactly the ones investing themselves in the present and future of the school district.

Allowing a board member to request hearing from a knowledgeable resource isn't exactly the same as turning the meeting over to mob rule.

These are the kinds of ridiculous barriers that make people feel their institutions are not listening to them. We suggest it is entirely in the school board's best interests to hear as much as possible from students on issues they're discussing. It seems entirely plausible that a school board made up of community leaders can handle a little testimony from the audience without losing control.

Lighten up, Mr. Riggs.

Commentary on 10/29/2018

Print Headline: No time for that

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