The Hawaii State Department of Education announced its approval Thursday of an updated version of the Pono Choices sexual health curriculum for optional use by middle schools. The apprioval follows changes made by its developers at the University of Hawaii-Manoa Center on Disability Studies.
However state Rep. Bob McDermott, the program's most vocal critic, still believes Pono Choices is not age-appropriate and he questions the medical accuracy of the information being offered.
"I challenge you to find the name of the doctor who said it's medically accurate," McDermott said in an interview with KITV4. "Good luck because we couldn't find it."
Hawaii middle schools are required to provide a comprehensive, abstinence-based sexual health education program that follows the requirements set forth under state law and the State Board of Education. Such programs must also be in alignment with the state's health education standards. However, principals may choose to implement any one of the seven DOE approved sex ed curricula. Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum in Schools and Student Supprt Leila Hayashida said changes to Pono Choices followed a review by the DOE, UHM-CDS and a Stakeholder Review Panel.
"We considered the opinions of parents, community agencies and medical professionals and they gave us great feedback," said Hayashida.
In June 2014, the DOE released a report detailing recommendations to improve its sexual health curriculum and halted the use of Pono Choices until UHM-CDS addressed the report. Recently, a revised version of Pono Choices was reviewed and approved.
The changes to the program include the following: 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.
Under the revised program, no student is required to participate in Pono Choices until a parent opts in, which the DOE announced in June. Beginning in second semester of the current school year, all parents must sign an opt-in form permitting their children to participate in the sex ed curriculum.
"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 Ronn Nozoe, Deputy Superintendent. "It is still necessary and important to provide students with a strong health education that helps them make informed choices about their futures."
McDermott was a driving force behind the opt-in mandate for Pono Choices, but still sees problems with the program. He says students are given gift certificates after completion of the course and are then asked how they liked it.
"I've written to the DOE twice asking what the amounts were," said McDermott. "We know that in Philadelphia the program 'Making Proud Choices,' it was $100 a student back in '98. They wouldn't tell me. I filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission and the Ethics Commission as of this afternoon still doesn't know."
Kelly Roberts, an associate professor at UHM-CDS, said in an email to KITV4 that Impact International, the external evaluator for Pono Choices, has the information on gift cards that were distributed to students.
Roberts said 28 schools have trained facilitators and may be using Pono Choices in the near future.
Questions about the Pono Choices curriculum or research study, and requests for copies of the curriculum or materials, should be directed to UHM-CDS at http://www.cds.hawaii.edu/ponochoices/contact-us/.