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Hawaii’s education department keeping sex-ed curriculum a secret

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Hi Rep. Bob McDermott holds up a copy of notes from an 11-year-old student enrolled in the sex education classes in the state's public schools. Many parents have complained the content is inappropriate and graphic for their children.

Hi Rep. Bob McDermott holds up a copy of notes from an 11-year-old student enrolled in the sex education classes in the state’s public schools. Many parents have complained the content is inappropriate and graphic for their children.

By Malia Zimmerman | Watchdog.org

HONOLULU, Hawaii — State Rep. Bob McDermott is mad, and he thinks you should be as well.

The Ewa Republican is outraged that the state Department of Education won’t release a copy of its controversial sex-education curriculum, Pono Choices, now being taught to the state’s 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds in public middle schools.

As a parent, taxpayer and legislator, McDermott said he should be able to get a copy of the 10-hour curriculum from either the state Department of Education or the University of Hawaii Center on Disability Studies, which developed the $800,000 pilot program.

“We are asking the public to demand that all materials used in the Pono Choices program be released to the public, whose tax money has already paid for it to be developed, so that they can be informed as to what is being put in front of their innocent children in our public education system,” McDermott said Wednesday.

Some 1,700 public middle school students already have been through the Pono Choices curriculum. “Pono” means “the right way” or “doing what is right” in the Hawaiian language.

The DOE has called the program “medically accurate,” adding it informs teens about pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. But many parents have found its content offensive, graphic and inappropriate for their children. It includes sections on same-sex relationships.

Some parents also were concerned when their 11-year-olds learned about anal, vaginal and oral sex, McDermott said. Other parents complained when they were discovered their children learned to put a condom on a cucumber or wooden replica of a penis.

Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom said government needs to be transparent.

Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom said government needs to be transparent.

Because parents complained, the DOE’s plans to expand the Pono Choices from 12 to 19 schools was put on hold last month while the pilot curriculum was reviewed. However, two weeks later, the program was reinstated.

Donalyn Dela Cruz, director of communications and community affairs for the Hawaii State Department of Education, told McDermott in an email the course material would not be made public, but offered to have the lead researcher “address any questions.”

That researcher, Kelly Robert, told McDermott in a follow-up email: “We are not releasing the curriculum or associated materials to anyone who has not gone through the Pono Choices training.”

McDermott said the DOE is trying to hide its “pro-gay agenda.”

“They now have chosen to hide this material because they claim to know better than parents and state legislators what material is appropriate for their children and will not tolerate interference with their plans,” McDermott said. “You, as a parent, are no longer needed or wanted in the loop.”

Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom, R-Hawaii Kai-Diamond Head, said his office ran into the same roadblocks as McDermott.

“We made a formal request as representatives of the people to get information, which is funded by the taxpayers. It was denied,” Slom said. “A government that hides public information is antithetical to democracy. Particularly now when have our state government and state administration talking so much about transparency. There is a total lack of transparency here.”

Reach Malia Zimmerman at Malia@hawaiireporter.com

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Malia Zimmerman