Hawaii lawmaker renews fight to end or revise controversial sex ed program
BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU — State Rep. Bob McDermott, who enrolled his eight children in Hawaii’s public schools, doesn’t want his 11-year-old son exposed to a controversial taxpayer-funded sex education program.
That program is taught in 12 public schools across the state, and the Hawaii Department of Education is planning to expand the curriculum to others.
That’s spurred McDermott to renew his fight to get the program revised or pulled altogether. He’s releasing a 21-page report Monday entitled “The Pono Choices Curriculum: Sexualizing the Innocent” detailing his concerns. He also plans to make a plea to the Hawaii Board of Education at its Tuesday meeting, and hold a legislative briefing Wednesday evening for parents.
The 10-hour program, called Pono Choices (pono is a Hawaiian word that translates to “the right way”), is designed for youth aged 11 to 13. It has been taught to 1,700 Hawaii middle school children through an $800,000 pilot program.
McDermott said the program is “medically inaccurate” and not biology based, and that it teaches children about topics such as anal sex, sex with multiple partners and how to put on a condom — using a cucumber or wooden replica of a penis.
“The program normalizes a homosexual lifestyle and anal sex, while failing to warn students of the extreme dangers of anal sex; it references multiple sex partners, while failing to inform students about the health benefits of monogamy; it fails to warn students about the ineffectiveness of condoms against HPV, herpes, and anal sex; and fails to educate students on the stages of human reproduction,” McDermott said, providing Hawaii Reporter with an early copy of his report.
“Any talk of anal sex — which the curriculum does frequently — is instinctively repulsive for pre-pubescent children. Additionally, calling the anus a genital — as Pono Choices does — is just plain medically wrong,” McDermott said.
Among his other arguments: the curriculum’s definition of oral sex isn’t consistent with the definition commonly found in medical literature, data on condom use and effectiveness is inaccurate with regard to HPV, herpes, and HIV and the curriculum ignores the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s warning regarding the risks of condom use when engaging in anal sex.
NOT THE THREE R’S: 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.
The DOE maintains the program is medically accurate, and points out parents can opt their children out of the program.
Parents are invited to a Pono Choices Parent Night through a letter that’s sent home with their child informing them their child will study teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection prevention as part of health education, the DOE in a statement in mid-December. They also learn how to use a condom as part of the program.
“For any curriculum or lesson that addresses reproductive health, parents have the option of requesting that their child not receive the instruction,” the DOE statement said.
However, McDermott said what parents are told — and students are taught — are very different.
“The parental opt-out forms are woefully inadequate. They lack clarity and transparency by concealing some controversial aspects of the material,” McDermott said.
In November, McDermott requested a copy of the curriculum, which was developed by the University of Hawaii. The DOE and university denied his request for several weeks.
McDermott said DOE spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz told him in an email that the course material wouldn’t 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.”
WHY ARE YOU SMILING? McDermott said happy faces are used to represent STIs partners can get from one another in the curriculum.
Once he obtained a copy and reviewed it with his staff attorney and others, McDermott felt the curriculum fails to inform children of the exponentially increased risks of male on male anal sex.
“Such omission renders the entire document questionable at best and agenda-driven social engineering at worst,” McDermott said.
The program is also contrary to state law and policies regarding abstinence-based sexual education, McDermott said.
“The curriculum treats sexual activity before the age of 14 as a viable choice, despite the state sexual assault law, which puts the age of consent at 16,” McDermott said.
The DOE maintained in a statement that abstinence is taught, but McDermott said “it is not the central message of the curriculum,” which he said gives a mixed message.
The DOE pulled the program in late November 2013 to review it after parents and some legislators complained, but reinstated the program after two weeks and announced its expansion to other schools.
MONTES: It’s time for the community to fight back
Others share McDermott’s concerns. Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom, R-Hawaii Kai-Diamond Head, agrees that parts of the curriculum aren’t appropriate for middle school students.
Hawaii Republican Assembly, a local conservative organization, issued a statement Monday calling Pono Choices, “Porno Choices” and encouraged parents to attend both the BOE meeting Tuesday and the legislative briefing Wednesday.
“It’s time to fight back,” said organization spokesman Tito Montes.
Reach Malia Zimmerman at Malia@hawaiireporter.com