Hawaii Rep. Bob McDermott has at least one good point. State education officials should have turned over a copy of Hawaii’s controversial sex education program as soon as he asked for it.

McDermott was livid when the Hawaii Department of Education told him he would have to sit through an orientation of Pono Choices before a full copy of the sex-ed program teacher’s manual would be shared with him.

There is nothing in the state’s public records law, the Uniform Information Practices Act, that says documents shall only be released to the public after people take a lesson in them.

It wasn’t just the Hawaii lawmaker who was frustrated in his efforts to review the complete version of Pono Choices. Civil Beat reporter Chad Blair was also told by the DOE that he had to sit with staff from the University of Hawaii‘s Center on Disability Studies.

The center developed the program with funding from the federal Office of Adolescent Health. Blair reviewed the materials — a teacher’s manual, a student workbook and a digital presentation — at the center’s office. And while he was permitted to quote from them, he was not allowed to make copies or borrow the documents.

Brian Black of the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest sent a letter to DOE Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi asking for an explanation.

Black noted that government records are open for public inspection unless there are specific exemptions in the law to keep them confidential.

The law doesn’t allow government agencies to impose additional conditions on examining those records, Black wrote. The DOE has the materials in its possession and nothing says those records should be kept secret, so the information should be available to the public.

“While I appreciate DOE’s efforts to educate the public about its teaching materials and avoid misunderstandings, those efforts should not interfere with the Department’s legal obligations under the UIPA to provide appropriate access to government information,” Black said. “As expressed in the UIPA, ‘(o)pening up the government process to public scrutiny and participation is the only viable and reasonable method of protecting the public’s interest.’”

Matayoshi’s response to Black raises even more questions about DOE’s interpretation of the UIPA.

First, Matayoshi said the Pono Choices curriculum is copyrighted by UH, and that it “would not be appropriate” for DOE to release the program materials without consulting the university.

More perplexing is why she requires McDermott and others to come in for a sit-down with a UH professional before they can access the documents.

Matayoshi said Pono Choices “should only be used by trained individuals” and that the university has stated that this curriculum “requires any individual using or even reviewing the materials to have a thorough understanding of the content, various components, and the order in which they are delivered.”

But parents don’t need to get a learner’s permit before they can see how teenagers learn about the Civil War or are taught to drive.

Matayoshi certainly seems to be dodging a political hot potato at the expense of Hawaii’s public records law.

Read Black’s letter and Matayoshi’s response below: