Schools in Hawaii were not legally obligated to teach sex education until 2015. Prior to 2015, schools that chose to offer sex education were not required to provide medically accurate information until 2009. In fact, prior to 2009, many schools were dependent on Catholic charities that provided federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) education programs called Choosing The Best (9).
In 2010, just after medically accurate information became a requirement, and potentially in response to the fact that Hawaii had the 19th highest reported teen pregnancy rate in the United States, the 28th highest reported teen birth rate, and the 7th highest reported teen abortion rate (25), the state was granted the generous sum of $5 million to develop new sex-ed programs.
As a result, Pono Choices was created for youth ages 11 to 13. Pono Choices was the first teen pregnancy and STI prevention curriculum developed exclusively for Hawaiians, by Hawaiians. The curriculum was culturally responsive and wove in Hawaiian cultural terms, practices, and concepts that “stress positive character development” (27).
As we’re sure you can imagine, not everyone was thrilled about this. Rep. Bob McDermott (R-Kapolei, Makakilo) filed a complaint in 2013. This complaint caused periods of flux in this curriculum – including pausing of the program altogether, forcing guardians to opt-in, and removing the word “anus” from conversations around genitals (17). #nojoke.
As of 2015, Sexual Health Education is mandatory in Hawaii, though parents can choose to opt-out with written consent. Today there are a total of seven approved curricula that can be used by schools in Hawaii. They include:
- Draw the Line, Respect the Line
A three year sex education program for sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade students. The primary goal of this program is to help youth postpone having sex. Increasing condom use is a secondary goal (8).
- Family Life and Sexual Health (F.L.A.S.H.)
Designed for students grades 5th – 12th and those in secondary special education. It uses an abstinence-based approach as well as prevention of pregnancy, HIV, and STD. This curriculum value family involvement and Ensures discussion around diversity and varying beliefs (9).
For Grades K-12, this program is an online resource for health education tools such as lesson plans and educational games/apps that are designed to engage students in conversations around Health. This program was designed to “overcome two serious threats to good health: a lack of physical activity and a void of health literacy,” (15).
- Making a Difference
An abstinence-based, eight module curriculum that teaches students how to reduce the risks of HIV, pregnancy, and STDs by abstaining from sex (18).
- Pono Choices
A 10 module, 9.5-hour curriculum. It is designed to provide Middle School youth with medically accurate information and resources to reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancy and STIs using a Native Hawaiian place-based framework, (20).
- Positive Prevention
This program was designed for Grades 6-8, 9-12 and 7-12 (special populations). It is the required curriculum for the Los Angeles Unified School District and includes research and evidence-based information around unplanned pregnancy, informed decision making, safe surrender law, preventing STDs and family planning/contraception. Health teachers must attend a one-day skill-based training to teach this course, (21).
- Reducing the Risk (RTR)
Designed for those in high school, this program is a 16 session curriculum that helps students delay sexual engagement or use protection against pregnancy and STD/HIV if they choose to have sex. The content is research-proven and addresses topics such as decision making, refusal strategies, and communication (22).
While legal guardians can have their children opt-out of sex education class, Hawaii does not require parental permission for students to participate in (opt-in) sexuality or HIV/AIDS education (2).
Timeline + Notable Legislation
1800s- pamphlets about venereal diseases, overall good hygiene, and the evils of prostitution and masturbation were widely distributed outside of schools.
1913- Chicago attempts to formally introduce sex-ed into their school systems. The Catholic Church helps shut it down. (30)
1914– The American Hygiene Association was founded to teach soldiers about sexual hygiene throughout the war. They would later be involved in creating school curriculums.
1916– Planned Parenthood is founded in New York.
1919– A report from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Children’s Bureau was released that suggested soldiers would have been better off if they had received sex instruction in school. (30)
1920s– resurgence of interest in getting sex-ed into schools.
Between 20-40% of U.S. school systems had programs in social hygiene and sexuality. (30)
1930s– The U.S. Office of Education began to publish materials and train teachers.
1964– The medical director at Planned Parenthood, Mary Calderone, founded the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) in part to challenge the American Social Hygiene Association.
1968– A pamphlet called “Is the School House the Proper Place to Teach Raw Sex?” is widely distributed by Gordon Drake and James Hargis framing sex ed as a way to indoctrinate children into communism. Thus began the scary rhetoric that sex-ed was teaching students to be homosexuals and that teachers were having sex in front of students. (30)
1980s– The AIDS epidemic takes hold. Religious groups use this public health crisis to push their own agenda and convince school board members and legislative officials that abstinence-only sex education was the only way to keep kids “safe.”
1981– President Regan signed the Adolescent Family Life Act (aka the “Chastity Law” –yikes!). This law allowed federal funding to go to abstinence-only programming. And abstinence-only sexuality education (AOSE) and abstinence-only until marriage (AOUM) programming became the norm in the US.
2004: Study is published showing the harms of abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) programs and the importance of investing in comprehensive sexuality education. There are plenty more studies that have been published since reaffirming the same results. (It’s possible there were studies earlier than this, but this was the earliest one we could find. Know of an earlier one? Please get in touch!)
2018: Under the Trump administration, Abstinence-only until marriage (AOUM) is rebranded to be Sexual Risk Avoidance Education (SRAE) (1). More federal funding goes towards pushing these programs.
And now on to Hawaii…
1995: The Board of Education established Policy 2210 requiring the Hawaii State Department of Education to implement a comprehensive abstinence-based education. The program was created to,
(1) Support abstention from sexual intercourse and provide skill development to continue absentation
(2) Help youth who have had sexual intercourse to abstain from further sexual intercourse until an appropriate time, and,
(3) Provide youth with information and skill development in the use of protective devices and methods for the purpose of preventing STDs and pregnancy. You can learn more about the policy here (on page 7). (16)
Students and their guardians had to opt-in to this program, meaning they had to give written consent to take these classes.
Pre – 2009: Catholic charities provided, Try Wait, an AOUM program to schools. These programs used the Choosing The Best curriculum and were supported by federal funding (9).
2009: State law required all existing sexual health programs to offer medically accurate information, including education around contraception and disease prevention. Schools that choose to teach sex education to students were encouraged to emphasize abstinence (4).
2010: Hawaii was awarded a $5 million grant to create sex-ed programs over the course of 5 years. Pono Choices: A Culturally Responsive Teen Pregnancy and STI Prevention Program, was created. Pono Choices is a sexual health education curriculum developed and owned by the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Center on Disability Studies (UHM-CDS) (16).
2013: Rep. Bob McDermott (R-Kapolei, Makakilo) and a few other legislators complained about the Pono Choices program. In November 2013 the State Department pulled the program to review it. The state ultimately reinstated the sex-ed program and expanded it to other schools (17).
2014: In February, Rep. McDermott wrote a report entitled “The Pono Choices Curriculum: Sexualizing the Innocent” stating that the program was too explicit, medically inaccurate, and did not explain the risks of “homosexual sex” (section 3.1 covers the “Mischaracterization of the Human Anus”) (2).
The GOP called for an amendment to prevent the education department from discussing the anus as a sexual organ in the sex education program. The amendment failed to pass with only seven of 51 members voting yes (17).
Yet, in June 2014, the University of Hawaii made changes to the Pono Choices curriculum due to continued controversy. The changes included the following:
(1) The anus could not be associated with conversations around genitalia,
(2) The sex-ed curriculum must include the discussion of the dangers of unprotected anal sex, and
(3) A switch to an opt-in system rather than opt-out. This means students had to get parental permission to attend sex education programs rather than parents having to sign a form to take them out.
2015: On June 16, 2015, the Hawaii Board of Education voted to make sex education mandatory in schools. The Sexual Health Education Policy 103.5 was passed by the Board of Education, thus replacing Policy 2110 on abstinence-based education (13). A description of the curriculum used by the school had to be made available to parents before instruction commenced, and parents and legal guardians can opt-out of having their children participate in sexual health education (11).
2018: Bill HB 1905 was introduced in the state that requires sex education to “encourage students to communicate with their parents, guardians, and other trusted adults about sexuality and intimate relations” and requires that the BOE and DOE collaborate to provide curricula information to the public (14).
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
Sex education is required in the state of Hawaii. The emphasis is on medically accurate, evidence-based information. However, students are encouraged to practice abstinence as the safest way to prevent diseases and unintended pregnancies.
The state strongly encourages schools to inform guardians of the curriculum prior to the instruction of the class. This includes posting details about upcoming sex education classes on the school website and sending letters out to parents and guardians. Guardians are able to opt-out of sex education classes for their children. If students do not attend the class, they are required to turn in a project but are not penalized for their absence (16, 19, 20). Check out the opt-out “homework” on pages 7 and 8 (hint: it’s about knowing the consequences of sex) (23). Here’s a glimpse at the Pono Choices facilitator’s manual (9).
What the kids are actually learning
It seems that today, abstinence is still touted as the best way to avoid STIs and unintended pregnancy. The local Planned Parenthood chapter says their goal is to provide “…positive messages about sex and sexuality as natural, normal, healthy parts of life” followed by “[o]ur educators emphasize information about abstinence as the best way to avoid sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy” (19).
That said, in 2015, Hawaii made a revision to the sexual health education standards (Policy 103.5) and created a curriculum where the intention is placed on helping students to “form healthy relationships that are based on mutual respect and affection and are free from violence, coercion and intimidation” and “[e]ncourages student[s] to communicate… about sexuality.” (16) Today, many faculty sex educators are using Pono Choices as the core curriculum in schools.
Any interesting programs/initiatives/legislation in the works or currently running?
HB 1905: In January of 2018 a bill was introduced in Hawaii (HB 1905) that would require sex education to “encourage students to communicate with their parents, guardians, and other trusted adults about sexuality and intimate relations” (14).
Title IX Protections extend to LGBTQ Students: In 2018, the state Legislature extended Title IX protections to LGBTQ students. This act stopped federal steps to exclude LGBTQ folks from anti-discrimination laws. The Department of Education is also rethinking how to approach their anti-bully policies after the 2018 report by the U.S. Dept. of Education Office for Civil Rights discovered that transgender students are the biggest targets of bullying in schools, (28).
The State has also begun to issue new birth certificates with the appropriate gender, they have banned conversion therapy for minors and passed legislation to prevent insurance companies from denying folks coverage based on gender identity, (28). There is still much work to be done on the ground and within communities, but this is a step.
Pono Choices: In March 2019, Pono Choices was added to the Innovation Station Best Practices database, maintained by the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs. On May 31st, the same associated awarded Pono Choices with a Maternal Health best practice, (27).
Written by: Morgane Richardson
Edited by: Teri Bradford
Have info to add? Please get in touch!
(1) ALU LIKE, Inc, Planned Parenthood of Hawai‘i, and University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa – Center on Disability Studies (CDS). “Facilitator Manual: Pono Choices A Culturally Responsive Teen Pregnancy and STI Prevention Program for Middle School Youth.” Center on Disability Studies. Center on Disability Studies – University of Hawai‘i, 2015. https://www.cds.hawaii.edu/ponochoices/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/FacilitatorManual.pdf.
(2) Aran, Isha. “Parents of Hawaii Middle Schoolers Must Now Opt In For Sex Ed.” Jezebel. Jezebel, June 8, 2014. https://jezebel.com/not-for-nothing-but-does-it-bother-anyone-else-that-th-1587774267.
(3) Bussewitz, Cathy. “Hawaii’s Abortion Drop Coincides with Sex Education Changes.” Washington Times, June 7, 2015. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jun/7/hawaiis-abortion-drop-coincides-with-sex-education/.
(4) “[§321-11.1] Medically Accurate Sexuality Health Education.” Hawaii State Legislature, 2009. https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/hrscurrent/vol06_ch0321-0344/HRS0321/HRS_0321-0011_0001.htm.
(5) Blackman, Kate, and Samantha Scotti. State Policies on Sex Education in Schools. National Conference of State Legislatures, March 21, 2019. https://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-policies-on-sex-education-in-schools.aspx.
(6) Choosing The Best: The Leader in Abstinence-Centered SRA Education, 2019. https://www.choosingthebest.com/.
(7) “Curriculum Overview.” Pono Choices: A Culturally Responsive Teen Pregnancy and STI Prevention Program. Center on Disability Studies, 2019. https://www.cds.hawaii.edu/ponochoices/facilitators/curriculum-overview/.
(8) “Draw The Line Respect The Line.” Hawaii Public Schools. Accessed December 17, 2019. https://www.hawaiipublicschools.org/DOE Forms/Health and Nutrition/DrawtheLineRespecttheLine.pdf.
(9) “Family Life and Sexual Health (F .L.A.S.H.).” Hawaii Public Schools. Accessed December 17, 2019. https://www.hawaiipublicschools.org/DOE Forms/Health and Nutrition/FamilyLifeandSexualHealthF.pdf.
(10) “Hawaii DOE: DOE Approves Revised Pono Choices Sexual Health Curriculum.” Hawaii DOE | DOE approves revised Pono Choices sexual health curriculum, September 4, 2014. https://www.hawaiipublicschools.org/ConnectWithUs/MediaRoom/PressReleases/Pages/DOE-approves-revised-Pono-Choices-sexual-health-curriculum.aspx.
(11) “Hawaii DOE: Parent Opt-out for Child.” Hawaii DOE | Parent opt-out for child. Hawaii Public Schools. Accessed December 17, 2019. https://www.hawaiipublicschools.org/ConnectWithUs/FAQ/Pages/Parent-opt-out-for-child.aspx.
(12) “Hawaii DOE: Sexual Health Education.” Hawaii DOE | Sexual Health Education. Hawaii DOE. Accessed December 1, 2019. https://www.hawaiipublicschools.org/TeachingAndLearning/HealthAndNutrition/sexed/Pages/default.aspx#.
(13) Hawaii Public Schools. “POLICY 103.5 Sexual Health Education.” Hawaii Public Schools. Hawaii Public Schools, September 95AD. https://www.hawaiipublicschools.org/DOE Forms/Health and Nutrition/BOE103_5_061615.pdf.
(14) “HB1905 .” Hawaii State Legislature. Hawaii State Legislature, January 18, 18AD. https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/Archives/measure_indiv_Archives.aspx?billtype=HB&billnumber=1905&year=2018.
(15) “HealthTeacher.com.” Hawaii Public Schools. Accessed December 17, 2019. https://www.hawaiipublicschools.org/DOE Forms/Health and Nutrition/HealthTeacher.pdf.
(16) “Implementing Sexual Health Education: Background and Actions Improvement,” June 2014. https://www.hawaiipublicschools.org/DOE Forms/PonoChoicesImplementationReport.pdf.
(17) Kempner, Martha. “Sex Ed Mandatory in Hawaii Schools After Years of Misinformation.” Rewire.News. Rewire.News, June 25, 2015. https://rewire.news/article/2015/06/25/sex-ed-mandatory-hawaii-schools-years-misinformation/.
(18) “Making a Difference.” Hawaii Public Schools. Accessed December 16, 2019. https://www.hawaiipublicschools.org/DOE Forms/Health and Nutrition/MakingaDifference.pdf.
(19) Planned Parenthood. “Comprehensive Sexuality Education.” Comprehensive Sexuality Education. Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands, 2019. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-great-northwest-hawaiian-islands/education/comprehensive-sexuality-education.
(20) “Pono Choices.” Hawaii Public Schools. Accessed December 17, 2019. https://www.hawaiipublicschools.org/DOE Forms/Health and Nutrition/PonoChoices.pdf.
(21) “Positive Prevention.” Hawaii Public Schools. Accessed December 17, 2019. https://www.hawaiipublicschools.org/DOE Forms/Health and Nutrition/PositivePrevention.pdf.
(22) “Reducing the Risk (RTR).” Hawaii Public Schools. Accessed December 16, 2019. https://www.hawaiipublicschools.org/DOE Forms/Health and Nutrition/ReducingtheRiskRTR.pdf.
(23) (19) “Sexual Health Policy 103.5.” State of Hawai’i Department of Education, Office of Curriculum Instruction and Student Support, August 3, 2016. https://1.cdn.edl.io/gRO7fqbwgHyrH1iQ6J843dud171ROxzj0cKpeVg56MSvhJ4N.pdf.
(24) SIECUS. “SIECUS State Profile Hawaii.” SIECUS State Profile Hawaii. SIECUS, 2013. https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/HAWAII-FINAL-FY-13.pdf#targetText=SEXUALITY EDUCATION LAW AND POLICY&targetText=Hawaii does not require parental,their children from such classes.
(25) SEICUS, ed. “State Profiles Fiscal Year 2018.” SIECUS. Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, 2018. https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Hawaii-FY18-Final-1.pdf.
(26) SIECUS. “2018 Sex Ed. State Legislative Mid-Year Report.” Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, 2018. https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/2018-Mid-Year-Leg-Rep-1.pdf.
(27) “University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii.” Pono Choices, 2019. https://www.cds.hawaii.edu/ponochoices/.
(28) Wessendorf, Cynthia. “Portraits of Gender and Sexual Identities in the Hawaiian Community.” Honolulu Magazine, October 15, 2019. https://www.honolulumagazine.com/Honolulu-Magazine/June-2019/In-Transition-Hawaiis-Transgender-Teens/.
(29) Zimmerman, Malia. “HI Lawmaker Renews Fight to End or Revise Controversial Sex Ed Program.” Hawai’i Free Press, February 2014. https://www.hawaiifreepress.com/ArticlesMain/tabid/56/ID/11813/HI-lawmaker-renews-fight-to-end-or-revise-controversial-sex-ed-program.aspx.
(30) Cornblatt, Johannah. “A Brief History of Sex Ed in America.” Newsweek, March 13, 2010. https://www.newsweek.com/brief-history-sex-ed-america-81001.