The Hawaii Department of Education convened a working group yesterday to review the controversial sexual health education program that’s caused an uproar in recent months among conservative groups and parents. 

The “Pono Choices” pilot curriculum, which is being taught in some middle schools, first came under fire during the hearings on same-sex marriage, with dozens of testifiers arguing that the program teaches children that anal sex and gay relationships are okay. The DOE suspended the program in November to address concerns about its appropriateness but then reinstated it for school use in mid-December.

Now, a nine-person working group is conducting a thorough review of “Pono Chices” with the intent of ultimately issuing a public report on whether the program meets statutory requirements and relevant Board of Education policies on sexual health education. The group is the result of a BOE meeting earlier this month, when more than 100 people wrote testimony expressing concerns over the program. 

The working group met for the first time yesterday and convenes again on Feb. 27. Members of the public are inviting to share their thoughts on the curriculum through noon on Feb. 26 via email at 

The group is chaired by DOE Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe and includes a diverse cross section of the community, from a church official to a doctor to a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner. 

Here’s a list of the group’s members, taken from a DOE press release:

  • Darrin Araki, executive director, Hawaii Pastors Roundtable
  • Dr. Robert Bidwell, associate clinical professor of pediatrics and director of adolescent medicine, John A. Burns School of Medicine, UH Manoa
  • Karen Ginoza, representative of He’e Coalition and Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE)
  • Kimberly Kepner-Sybounmy, parent representative
  • Noella Kong, state adolescent health coordinator, Hawaii State Department of Health
  • Justin Mew, principal of Kaiser High School; former principal of Niu Valley Middle School and former science teacher
  • Donna Rodenhurst, health teacher, King Intermediate School
  • Kumu Hina Wong-Kalu, director of culture, Halau Lokahi Public Charter School

“Pono Choices” was one of seven DOE-approved sex-ed programs and was developed by the University of Hawaii’s Center on Disability Studies through funding from the federal government. 

Read some of Civil Beat’s past coverage of and commentary on “Pono Choices”:

Chad Blair: Pono Choices Is Pono For Sex Ed

Lawmakers: DOE Refusing to Hand Over ‘Pono Choices’ Sex-Ed Materials

Rep. Bob McDermott’s Gay Sex Problem

Off the Beat: Pono Choices is a Public Document

Photo: Pono Choices curriculum. (Courtesy of UH Manoa Center on Disability Studies)

— Alia Wong

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