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Public school sex-education program on hold, pending review

By Nanea Kalani

LAST UPDATED: 1:44 a.m. HST, Nov 30, 2013

A controversial sex education program that was being piloted in some Hawaii public schools will be halted and reviewed following concerns raised during the debate over legalizing same-sex marriage, the Department of Education announced Friday.

Pono Choices came under criticism from opponents of same-sex marriage, including some lawmakers, who complained that middle-school students were being taught about same-sex relationships and oral and anal sex as part of the program's curriculum.

Pono Choices is a pilot curriculum and among seven DOE-approved programs for middle schools to use for sexual health education. It was developed by the University of Hawaii-Manoa Center on Disability Studies to help reduce teen pregnancies and prevent sexually transmitted infections.

The DOE said that while all of its approved courses are in compliance with the Board of Education's abstinence-based sex education policy, Pono Choices will be placed on hold after the current fall semester.

"Recent concerns over the department's sexual education curriculum have resulted in misstatements and misunderstandings about the learning that takes place in the classroom," Leila Hayashida, assistant superintendent for the Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Student Support, said in a statement this afternoon. 

She said the DOE has asked the UH center "to address public concerns about the curriculum's descriptions of healthy, unhealthy and abusive relationships." 

Twelve schools chose to use the curriculum during the previous two school years and eight other schools were scheduled to use it this school year.

"These 20 DOE schools, if implementing sexual health education prior to finalization of the second DOE review of Pono Choices, will need to select and use another curriculum," the department said in the news release.

For any course or lesson that is considered controversial, parents have the option of opting out their child, the department said.

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