Controversial sex education program reinstated
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Controversial sex education program reinstated in Hawaii public schools

By   /   September 5, 2014  /   News  /   No Comments

Photo by Mel Ah Ching

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 complained the content is inappropriate and graphic for their children.

By Malia Zimmerman |

HONOLULU — The Hawaii State Department of Education will reinstate the controversial “Pono Choices” sex education curriculum, but after pressure from some parents and lawmakers, the program for middle school students will include some key revisions.

The curriculum, developed by the University of Hawaii Center on Disability Studies, set off a firestorm over the last year. Some parents and lawmakers said the program, which taught children as young as age 11 about anal and homosexual sex, was inaccurate and inappropriate.

Rep. Bob McDermott, R-Aiea, who has a 12-year-old son in public school, led the charge to pressure the state Board of Education to pull the curriculum. He accused the DOE of “normalizing homosexual lifestyles” and “putting students at risk by withholding critical facts.”

McDermott also took issue with the DOE’s definition of “age appropriateness” used in evaluating Pono Choices, calling it “shockingly absurd.”

“I am certain that the first time many of these children have ever been exposed to the concept of anal sex was in Pono Choices, so how could it possibly be age appropriate?” McDermott asked.

McDermott said families were told Pono Choices was a “new curriculum” being tested or a “pilot project,” but were never told their students were participating in a research project.

“Parents simply were not informed that their kids were being used as human guinea pigs for research. This is a monumental breach of trust between the DOE and the owners of the system, the parents,” McDermott said.

McDermott, who released his own extensive 19-page report on the curriculum’s flaws and inaccuracies in January 2014 after consulting several physicians, said Pono Choices was never certified as medically accurate and still isn’t today.

“The program was submitted to the Office of Adolescent Health, which then subcontracts a medical review via Paltech. These results are then sent to the University of Hawaii. No one ever verifies if the changes are made. Then the OAH ‘approves for use,’ but specifically does not approve for medical accuracy, as they have a policy that forbids them from doing so. This is how we ended up with the ludicrous definition of the anus as a genital and the practical equalization of anal and vaginal sex; with no government entity willing to take responsibility for it,” McDermott said.

Photo by Malia Zimmerman

NOT HIM: Rep. Bob McDermott doesn’t want his children, who attend public school, exposed to the Pono Choices curriculum

After pressure from McDermott, Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom, R-Hawaii Kai, and the public, the DOE pulled the curriculum and formed a task force to review concerns.

The task force released 11 new recommendations on June 6 and stopped the implementation of the program until developers addressed the concerns and inaccuracies.

On Thursday, the DOE announced the curriculum was revised and would be reinstated.

Changes to Pono Choices curriculum include “a revised definition of sex and the genital area; new emphasis on the dangers of unprotected anal sex; and elimination of confusing language about condom effectiveness rates. Additional changes were made to the script and materials for the required parent informational night to give parents more detailed information about the language and scenarios used in the curriculum.”

Principals can implement any one of seven approved sex education and health programs, including Pono Choices, the DOE said.

DOE Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe said beginning this school year, all parents must sign an opt-in form permitting their children to participate in sexual health education.

“For many families, sexual health education is a sensitive issue. The changes to the curriculum and parent night materials, along with our revised policy requiring parents to ‘opt-in’ instead of ‘opt-out,’ strengthen their role in the process of sexual education,” said Nozoe. “It is still necessary and important to provide students with a strong health education that helps them make informed choices about their futures.”


Malia formerly served as staff reporter for