HONOLULU - Hawaii is making its sex-education classes for middle school students opt-in, responding to critics by giving parents responsibility to affirm that they want their children to be taught the course.
The Department of Education said Friday that the shift from an opt-out policy is one of 12 changes the department is immediately making to improve curriculum review and help parents be part of the sexual education process.
The changes come after objections to the program that debuted last year titled "Pono Choices," which has been criticized by some state lawmakers and others.
State Rep. Bob McDermott, a Republican who repeatedly said the curriculum wasn't medically accurate and was a form of social engineering, said Friday that the changes are a partial victory with the opt-in change plus changes to how genitals are described and inclusions about risks from anal sex.
"We have, for now, stopped the march of Pono Choices," McDermott said. "That said, we have to review this report in its entirety. . . . I want to see if they have addressed everything."
The changes come after a panel for the statewide school district reviewed the program. The panel said it received hundreds of public comments, criticizing the program about everything from how it promotes abstinence to how it treats gay relationships. The panel said criticisms that the curriculum "promotes homosexuality" were outside the scope of its review.
"There is no avoiding the fact that sexual health education is a sensitive and divisive issue," said Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe, who led the panel.
The department plans to hold off on implementing the program in schools until a revised version of the curriculum is approved.