The Hawaii Department of Education announced today that it’s going forward with a revised version of the Pono Choices sexual health program following months of deliberation over how and whether to change some of its more-controversial elements, particularly its references to anal sex.

The revised version was developed by the curriculum experts at the University of Hawaii at Manoa Center on Disability Studies who created the original Pono Choices program.

Pono Choices is one of seven DOE-approved sex-ed programs that Hawaii middle schools can use as required under state law and school board policy.

Hawaii State Rep. Bob McDermott at news conference discussing the current Pono Choices sex education program. 1.9.14  ©PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The revised version of Pono Choices clarifies the definition of the “anus” in response to the outcry from critics such as Rep. Bob McDermott (pictured here).

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The program came under fire last fall amid debates over same-sex marriage, which was ultimately legalized despite the deluge of opponents who crowded the state Capitol to testify against the bill.

Many opponents of same-sex marriage argued that its legalization would enable public schools to teach kids that gay relationships and sex are normal and acceptable. They cited Pono Choices, which originally referred to the anus as a genital, as evidence that such practices were already happening.

Rep. Bob McDermott, a fervent opponent of gay marriage who represents Ewa Beach, spearheaded a subsequent movement to ban Pono Choices from Hawaii classrooms. The program was briefly suspended last November but reinstated a month later, after which the DOE formed a diverse working group to evaluate its contents and come up with suggestions for how to change it.

The group released a report in June summarizing its findings.

The DOE immediately made certain changes following that report — namely that parents now have to opt their children into the program instead of out of it. The change was so significant that it prompted McDermott to declare the curriculum “dead.”

Meanwhile, changes to the program’s contents were up to its developers at UH, who have consistently touted the curriculum as medically accurate and customized to Hawaii’s student population and culture. The revised version that the DOE has approved reflects those changes.

The updates include:

  • Replacing the word “genitals” with “genital area” when the anus is included
  • Additional materials teaching that “unprotected anal sex” as high-risk for HIV
  • Increased emphasis on teaching abstinence as the only 100 percent guaranteed way of preventing STIs and pregnancies
  • Eliminating confusing language about condom effectiveness rates

Changes were also made to the script and materials for a required informational night where parents learn more about the language and scenarios used in Pono Choices.



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