Hawaii state Rep. Bob McDermott, who has relentlessly attacked “Pono Choices,” suggested that recent changes to the sex education program show it has no future.
The program’s image is so tarnished, the high-profile social conservative said, that few parents will opt to have their children take part in the program that he helped to make controversial over its blunt depiction of sexual issues.
Initially, the program was targeted at all middle school students — unless their parents took action to get them excused. But changes announced last week by the state Department of Education mean that parents will now have to opt their children into the program.
“I think Pono Choices is dead,” McDermott said at a Tuesday press conference at the State Capitol. “We have effectively stinkified it where no parent will want to sign their kids up for it.”
Pono Choices, developed by the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Center on Disability Studies, came under fire last fall for being medically inaccurate, not age-appropriate and supposedly normalizing anal sex and homosexual behavior. The pilot program depicted homosexual as well as heterosexual couples contemplating and making sexual decisions.
McDermott, who represents Ewa Beach, said he was ready to file a lawsuit over medical inaccuracies in the program. He has repeatedly highlighted how Pono Choices refers to the anus as a genital.
But following the DOE’s decision to eliminate that reference, he has changed his mind.
“What I’m against is teaching 11-year-old children about anal sex as if it were the equivalent of male and female relationships. It’s not.”
“I do have a plaintiff that has standing, whose child has gone through the program and we do have an attorney that was going to do the case pro bono,” McDermott said. “Now that they have corrected the medical inaccuracy, we’re not going to file a lawsuit at this time.”
McDermott seized on Pono Choices after gay marriage was legalized during a special session of the Legislature in November. He said he was particularly troubled by specific parts of the program, not the underlying concept.
“I’m not against sex education,” he said. “What I’m against is teaching 11-year-old children about anal sex as if it were the equivalent of male and female relationships. It’s not.”
The program, implemented in a limited number of public schools, was briefly suspended last November amid criticism that emerged during the gay marriage debate. It was reinstated a month later.
A nine-person working group was assembled by DOE to assess the program’s curriculum to see if it satisfied statutory requirements and Board of Education policies.
Last week the DOE, referencing the report written by that group, made significant changes to Pono Choices, including changing the opt-out option to an an opt-in.
In terms of content, the program will no longer refer to the anus as a genital. The DOE also made several recommendations to UH about other changes it wants.
McDermott would like to see some additional changes.
Though the medical inaccuracy was corrected, he remains dissatisfied with Pono Choices. He contends that the program remains inappropriate for middle school children and that the curriculum does not teach students to respond to potential sexual abuse from adults.
He said that the program is still not fit for preteens, noting that the DOE “didn’t include a predator protection module.”
McDermott plans to write his own report, inspired by the findings of the working group — a “rebuttal” of sorts — that he expects to make public by the end of the summer.
While McDermott said that the lawsuit is not in his plans right now, “there’s always potential” to start it up again.