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Hawaii: ‘Pono’ Is Not Porno, State DOE Determines

By Emily Ike, SIECUS Program Research Intern

Students in several Hawaii public schools will continue to receive the pilot sexual health education program Pono Choices, following a brief suspension of instruction prompted by some parents’ objections.

The Hawaii State Department of Education decided to place the ten-session program under review after parents of some students in the program expressed concern over some of the content. Pono Choices was developed by the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Center on Disability Studies, and is reaching 1,700 middle school students in Hawaii’s single state-wide school district.[1] The program is one of seven different approved programs that Hawaii public schools can use to provide sexuality education.

Funding for Pono Choices has come from the federal Office of Adolescent Health’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, which supports the program as a “Tier-2” intervention to be studied for its effect on teen sexual risk behaviors.

Kainoa Iranon, a parent of a boy enrolled in one of the pilot schools, objected to Pono Choices as “too graphic” – his son “talked about how he had to write what the teacher was teaching about: your mouth on the genitals, oral sex, vaginal sex, anal sex.”[2]  Another parent, requesting anonymity, stated, “I didn’t realize the extent of the graphic nature of some of the suggestions and material.”[3]

Leila Hayashida, Superintendent for the Department’s Office of Curriculum, Instruction, and Student Support, countered the opposition’s claims: “Recent concerns over the department’s sexual education curriculum have resulted in misstatements and misunderstandings about the learning that takes place in the classroom…We recently asked the [Center on Disability Studies] to address public concerns about the curriculum’s descriptions of health (sic), unhealthy, and abusive relationships.”[4]

Responding to opposition concerns, the Department conducted a formal review of the program and concluded by lifting the suspension. According to Hayashida:

“Our review not only affirmed that the curriculum meets department standards, but it also showed that Pono Choices is a culturally responsive curriculum that has resulted in positive outcomes for students. In this case that means more youth abstaining from sex and less teen pregnancy and STI transmission.”[5]

With 34 public and charter schools participating in a randomized controlled trial to pilot the program and evaluate its effectiveness at reducing teen sexual health risk behaviors, Pono Choices is slated to reach students in twelve additional schools in 2014. Parents can choose to opt their children out lessons to which they object. The State Department of Education has previously invited parents to participate in “Pono Choices Parent Night” to learn more about the program and address their concerns.


[1]Alia Wong, “Controversial ‘Pono Choices’ Sex-Ed Program Back on DOE Shelves,” Honolulu Civil Beat, December 13, 2013, accessed December 15, 2013 at http://hawaii.education.blogs.civilbeat.com/post/69945312838/controversial-pono-choices-sex-ed-program-back-on-doe.

[2]Jim Mendoza, “Pono Choices sex ed course concerns some parents,” Hawaii News Now, November 14, 2013, accessed December 15, 2013 at http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/23976101/pono-choices-sex-ed-course-concerns-some-parents.

[3]Ibid.

[4]“Department of Education Puts Controversial Sex Education Program on Hold,” Hawaii Reporter, December 2, 2013, accessed December 17, 2013 at http://www.hawaiireporter.com/department-of-education-puts-controversial-sex-education-program-on-hold/123.

[5]Wong, “Controversial ‘Pono Choices’…”

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