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IB Schools in U.S. Under U.N. Law

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International Baccalaureate: An Analysis of Jurisdiction

By Lyn Rahman

The International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), based in Geneva, Switzerland, offers three different International Baccalaureate (IB) programs and is responsible for assisting schools with implementation so that children learn how to become "engaged world citizens" (IBO, 2006).

The three IB programs offered are: Primary Years Program (PYP) for children ages 3 to 12, a Middle Years Program (MYP) for children ages 11 to 16, and a Diploma Program (DP) for children ages 16 to 19 (IBO, 2006). All of the programs come with tests administered by the IBO.

Like many other schools in the United States, some Oklahoma schools offer at least one of the three IB programs at the taxpayers' expense.

In addition to concerns about the organization's philosophy and the costs for schools to join these programs, there is sufficient reason to call attention to the governance of the programs offered by the IBO and Oklahoma statutes regarding same.

Swiss Law Governs IBO Procedures and Dispute Processes 
To offer IB programs, schools undergo a process governed by the IBO. Once complete, the schools operate with the guidance and support of the organization.

In its Rules for Authorized Schools, the schools must "abide by all the IBO regulations and procedures" (IBO, 2005, p.18).

Interestingly, Article 12 notes that Swiss law governs the Rules and all other documentation related to the authorization for teaching an IB program (IBO, 2005, p.22) (emphasis added).

Under Article 13, arbitration is the way to resolve disputes regarding the Rules. The arbitration process consists of three arbitrators who act under the Rules of Arbitration from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Switzerland; the seat for arbitration is in Geneva (IBO, 2005, p.22).

These same provisions for governance exist in the following IBO documentation intended for American schools:

  • The Application Procedure for Candidate Schools (IBO, 2005, p.28)

  • The Diploma Programme general regulations

Hearings are confidential, thus making it hard to determine whether any school in the United States had to settle a dispute before Swiss arbitrators. At present, it is difficult to prove whether a United States court dismissed a case regarding a dispute over the IB program based on a lack of jurisdiction. However, there are two known pieces of documentation questioning the governance of the IB programs.

First, in McLoughlin v. Locust Valley Central School District, 44 Ed Dept ___ [Decision No. 15,191], the petitioners alleged that there was a violation of rights because the school district entered into a contract giving exclusive jurisdiction to courts in Switzerland. Unfortunately, the New York State Education Commissioner ruled the question of jurisdiction moot, stating that the petitioners lacked standing since their children were not enrolled in the IB program. Id.

Second, an IBO Task Force appointed by the Owego-Apalachin School District in New York, reported that concerns over jurisdiction existed. In Item No. 5 of the Task Force's findings, the body reports:

. . . according to the terms of the legal agreement between the local school district and the International Baccalaureate Organization, disputes between the school district or its enrolled students would be subject to international arbitration rules whose arbiters would have final authority on MYP. (Task Force, 2004) (Emphasis added.)

Even though arbitration is generally an alternative to lawsuits, it appears Oklahoma schools are also subject to the governance of a foreign body while applying and operating as an IB school.

The UN Commission on International Trade Law is the
Basis for Switzerland's International Rules of Arbitration
As of January 1, 2004, Switzerland replaced its arbitration rules with that of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, otherwise known as UNCITRAL ("New Swiss Rules," 2004). According to UNCITRAL's web site, this organization is the "core legal body" of the United Nations, whose goal is to promote "commercial law reform" across the globe (UNCITRAL, 2006).

One can argue anything to be a matter of commerce. This includes intrastate and interstate travel, purchases and the shipment of same and even purchases for services rendered. Technically, one could argue the International Baccalaureate to be a service rendered as schools do pay and contract with the IBO, which could possibly make schools subject to many laws and rules developed by the United Nations.

Returning to the matter of arbitration, though the IBO document does not specify the United Nations' arbitration rules by title, Article 1(1) in the Swiss Rules of Arbitration (2006) states:

These Rules shall govern international arbitrations, where an agreement to arbitrate refers to these Rules, or to the arbitration rules of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Basel, Bern, Geneva, Ticino, Vaud, Zurich and any further Chamber of Commerce and Industry that may adhere to these Rules. (Emphasis added.)

As mentioned earlier, the basis of the Swiss rules comes from rules created by the legal branch of the United Nations, that established rules for international arbitration. Neither Switzerland nor the United Nations operates under American law, which seems to be further proof our children and IB schools in America become a subject of so-called international law once the school signs a contract with the IBO. The State of Oklahoma is not an exception with its statutes.

Information Sharing Between a State and a Foreign Entity 
Oklahoma law recognizes IB courses and defines same as "a high school level preparatory course for an International Baccalaureate examination that incorporates each topic specified by the International Baccalaureate Organization on its standard syllabus." 70 O.S. §1210.702(5) (OSCN)(2000).

Additionally, the statute defines an IB exam to mean one "administered by the International Baccalaureate Organization." 70 O.S. §1210.702(6) (OSCN) (2000). Furthermore, Oklahoma law allows the State Department of Education (SDE) to keep tabs on the test scores of Oklahoma students enrolled in an IB Program:

"Upon completion of the test, the State Department of Education shall obtain from the.International Baccalaureate Organization a list of students in Oklahoma who scored a four or higher on the International Baccalaureate test . . ." 70 O.S. §1210-703(B)(OSCN)(2001)

The aforementioned statutes show that to get student names with a certain score, the SDE must go through the International Baccalaureate. It does not mention the names of students who obtained a lower score, but seems to suggest that the IBO would have those names as well, and is therefore tracking all Oklahoma's students enrolled in the program. At any rate, all of the above-mentioned statutes are misleading as they do not detail the location of the IBO.

Parents with little information would not realize that a foreign body maintains "a list of students" where there is no guarantee of security. These statutes do not exert control over the IB, nor can they, since the governing law is not that of the state, but of Swiss law.

It is evident that the IB programs available to students are not within the actual control of the state, but that of a foreign body that can amend its laws as they see fit or, more correctly, at the determination of the United Nations' legal branch. Moreover, the State of Oklahoma continues to support schools that sign a contract with the IBO through its statutes and funding. Our own statutes show a kind of willingness to erode our own sovereignty by submitting to an international organization where an American school would essentially have to resolve its disputes according to the rules of a foreign body — the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Lyn Rahman is an education researcher with Oklahomans for School Accountability.

70 O.S. §1210.702(5) (OSCN)(2000)

70 O.S. §1210.702(6) (OSCN)(2000)

70 O.S. §1210-703(B)(OSCN)(2001)

International Baccalaureate Organization. (2001). Diploma programme general regulations.

International Baccalaureate Organization. (2006). Discover a world of education. Retrieved March 20, 2006

International Baccalaureate Organization. (2005). Information for prospective schools.

International Baccalaureate Task Force. (2004). Final report. Retrieved March 1, 2006

McLoughlin v. Locust Valley Central School District, 44 Ed Dept ___ [Decision No. 15,191] Swiss rules. (2006). Retrieved March 24, 2006

United Nations Commission on International Trade Law. (2006). Welcome to the UNCITRAL web site. Retrieved March 24, 2006

Walter Wyss & Partners. (2004). Global Practice Review. New Swiss rules of arbitration. July 2004(8). Zurich, Switzerland. Retrieved March 24, 2006

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