Hawaii: Board of Ed Passes New Sex-Ed Requirement

By Rachel Cultice, SIECUS Program Research Intern

On June 16, 2015, the State of Hawaii Board of Education passed Sexual Health Education Policy 103.5, regulation that has the force of law in requiring sexuality education in Hawaii public schools. The policy emphasizes five main points of focus, ensuring that education:

“(1) Includes education on abstinence, contraception, and methods of infection prevention to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection, including human immunodeficiency virus; (2) Helps students develop relationships and communication skills to form healthy relationships that are based on mutual respect and affection and are free from violence, coercion and intimidation; (3) Helps students develop skills in critical thinking, problem solving, decision making and stress management to make healthy decisions about sexuality and relationships; (4) Encourages student to communicate with their parents, guardians and/or other trusted adults about sexuality; and (5) Informs students of available community resources.”

Hawaii’s new sexuality education policy emphasizes that students should receive sexual health education that is “age appropriate [and] medically accurate.” The policy requires that a description of the curriculum be made available to parents and posted on the school’s website prior to instruction.  In addition, it includes a provision that will allow parents to opt their children out of instruction.[1]

Up until this point, sexuality education was not mandatory in Hawaii.[2] This new policy is the culmination of years of advocacy, controversy, concern, and changes.

Hawaii’s new sexuality education policy will replace Policy 2110, Abstinence-Based Education Policy, passed in 1995, which required schools to choose a curriculum from a list of seven curricula that had been pre-approved by the Board of Education.[3]  At that time, many public high schools in Hawaii used abstinence-only-until-marriage programs developed by Catholic Charities. One program, Try Wait, used the curriculum Choosing the Best.[4] In a SIECUS review of Choosing the Best, we describe the curriculum:

“[…] provides limited information on human sexuality and does not cover such basic topics as puberty, sexual response, or reproduction. Other important issues such as contraception, abortion, sexual orientation, STDs, and HIV/AIDS are presented in an unbalanced manner that seems designed to promote one point of view rather than simply inform students… The curriculum relies on messages of fear and shame and biased views of marriage, gender, and sexual orientation”[5]

Other programs and curricula on the pre-approved list from the Hawaii Board of Education were “culturally inappropriate,” using 1980’s videos featuring ice skaters in thick, winter sweaters.[6]

In 2009, Hawaii passed a law requiring that any state funded sexual health education programs be age-appropriate, medically accurate, and factual, providing education on “abstinence, contraception, and methods of disease prevention.” As a result of a five year cooperative agreement awarded to the Hawaii Youth Services Network by the Office of Adolescent Health, new programs were created to help implement the 2009 law.[7] 

Judith Clark, Executive Director of Hawaii Youth Services Network, told SIECUS that Hawaii did not receive the same funding this year. “So ironic,” she says, “we have this great new policy and won’t have funds to implement it.“ She assures that work will still be done regarding teen pregnancy. [8]

One of these programs, Pono Choices (or “good” choices), developed at the University of Hawaii-Manoa Center on Disability Studies, was created to be culturally appropriate and medically accurate. The program faced controversy, however, when a movement led by State Representative Bob McDermott had it removed from schools twice on the basis that it was not appropriate and contained medically inaccurate information. The Pono Choices curriculum, was brought back to schools for the 2014-2015 school year after changes were made.[9] More information about the Pono Choices controversy can be found in a previous SIECUS Policy Update.  

As a result of the controversy regarding the Pono Choices curriculum, the Department of Education implemented a policy during the summer of 2014 making sexuality education optional, requiring parents to opt their child in to sexuality education classes.[10] The new policy reverses this by offering sexuality education to all students and giving parents the ability to opt their children out of instruction.

Although Representative McDermott has called the new law requiring sexuality education in Hawaii schools a “travesty,”[11] data supports the need for the new Sexual Health Education Policy.  Hawaii had the largest drop in abortion rates from 2010 to 2014 (a decrease of almost 30%), which Laurie Temple Field, Hawaii-Planned Parenthood’s government relations director, explained was a result of Hawaii’s sexuality education policies [requiring sexuality education to be medically accurate] because students were learning the information they needed to protect themselves from unplanned pregnancy. [12], [13] Hawaii’s teen pregnancy rate was the 10th highest in the United States in 2010; this rate has also been decreasing. [14], [15]

The executive director of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawaii, Lisa Kimura, adds:

"I hear from women every single week who are having their second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth — and actually last week, seventh — child, many of them from situations where they have not received any type of education for their reproductive health.”[16]

Donalyn Dela Cruz, spokeswoman for the Hawaii Department of Education, says that plans for the implementation of this new policy will be finalized before the beginning of the 2015 school year.[17]

[1] Nanea Kalani, “School board makes sex education mandatory,” Star Advertiser, June 17, 2015, accessed on June 24, 2015. 

[2] Martha Kempner, "Sex Ed Mandatory in Hawaii Schools After Years of Misinformation," RH Reality Check, June 25, 2015, accessed on July 3, 2015 at http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2015/06/25/sex-ed-mandatory-hawaii-schools-years-misinformation/

[3] Kalani, “School board makes […]”

[4] Kempner, "Sex Ed Mandatory in Hawaii…”

[5] SIECUS, “Choosing the Best Journey Summary,” Community Action Kit, www.communityactionkit.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.ViewPage&PageID=1179&stopRedirect=1.

[6] Kempner, "Sex Ed Mandatory in Hawaii…”

[7] Ibid.

[8] Judith Clark, personal communication, July 21, 2015.

[9] Nanea Kalani, "Pono Choices sex ed program revised, ready for middle school," Star Advertiser, September 4, 2014, accessed June 24, 2015 at www.staradvertiser.com/news/breaking/20140904_Pono_Choices_sex_ed_program_revised_ready_for_middle_school.html?id=274024491.

[10] Kalani, “School board makes […]”

[11] Kempner, "Sex Ed Mandatory in Hawaii…”

[12] Ibid.

[13] David Crary, “AP: Abortions declining in nearly all states,” Detroit Free Press, June 7, 2015, accessed on July 3, 2015, at www.freep.com/story/news/nation/2015/06/07/abortion-rates-decline/28644881/.

[14] Kalani, “School board makes […]”

[15] Kempner, "Sex Ed Mandatory in Hawaii…”

[16] Kalani, “School board makes […]”

[17] GOP Choice, “Hawaii to require all public schools to include sex-ed curriculum,” GOP Choice, June 22, 2015, accessed July 3, 2015, at gopchoice.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/hawaii-to-require-all-public-schools-to-include-sex-ed-curriculum/.

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