As the Hawaii Legislature inches closer to legalizing same-sex marriage, opponents of the bill have been voicing their concerns with increasing fervor. One persistent concern has emerged: that legalizing same-sex marriage could force public school teachers to teach kids about “the homosexual lifestyle.”
Janice Pechauer, former president of the Save Traditional Marriage campaign, testified last week that, “As happened when Massachusetts adopted same-sex marriage, passage of SB 1 will lead to further radicalization of the sex-education curricula in Hawaii’s public schools, in essence, force-feeding children with information that parents consider immoral, dishonest and extremely harmful.”
But education experts and state officials say that’s not the case.
“There’s nothing in this bill that mandates curriculum change,” said Tara O’Neill, an associate professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Education who gives input on science teaching guidelines for public schools and is familiar with Hawaii public school policies.
“There is really no reason we would be discussing gay sex in schools and there’s certainly no reason that would happen in the general school curriculum,” O’Neill said.
Alex Da Silva, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said the department isn’t considering changing lesson plans in light of the same-sex marriage legislation.
Da Silva added that the department doesn’t teach the subject of marriage and that controversial issues are handled on a case-by-case basis. The education department has a policy that teachers have to get permission from principals before teaching any controversial subjects.
The state attorney general’s office also said that gay marriage and education are separate issues.
“This is just a bill about marriage,” said Anne Lopez, an attorney at the attorney general’s office. “This is not a bill about education.”
The Hawaii State Teachers Association says that none of the union’s teachers have filed complaints to express fears about the classroom implications of legalizing gay marriage.
A look at what’s being taught in states that have already legalized same-sex marriage suggests that Hawaii schools will be unaffected. Civil Beat reached out to the education departments of the 14 states that have legalized gay marriage asking whether the subject is being taught in schools or included in textbooks. Ten responded, all saying that they don’t mandate teaching same-sex marriage in schools.
Many also responded that they have not heard of so-called “gay books” being distributed among students. “Massachusetts does not require that students in any grade be taught about gay marriage,” wrote J.C. Considine, the spokesman for the Massachusetts state education department.
Education officials from Rhode Island, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Iowa, Vermont, Washington, and California also told Civil Beat their states don’t require teachers to teach kids about gay marriage.
All of those states manage teaching guidelines at a local level, unlike Hawaii where decisions are made at a state level because the state has a single school district.
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