Bribes for teachers? Lawmaker says advocacy group should not pay educators to attend 'tolerance training'
BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN - HONOLULU — State Rep. Bob McDermott filed an ethics complaint against Hawaii State Department of Education District Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi Thursday after she ignored his Feb. 28 letter requesting she halt the implementation of a new teacher training program.
The Southern Poverty Law Center will pay teachers $250 to attend the training, McDermott said, which “raises all sorts of ethical issues."
“Are Hawaii teachers being bribed to promote a specific point of view in these materials to their students?” McDermott asked.
In his letter to Matayoshi, McDermott requested she show him the citation in the law that allows such activities, because he said, “there is none.”
DOE spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz issued a statement Friday in response to Hawaii Reporter's inquiry, saying only "The Department of Education will review the complaint by Representative McDermott."
Maureen Costello, director of the Teaching Tolerance program, said the organization works around the country with various school districts within the guidelines of the school districts, either by donating to the schools or paying a small stipend to teachers who help improve the pilot program and Hawaii did in fact approve teachers to receive stipends.
Matayoshi allowed the seminar to be conducted by the SPLC this past weekend, leading the Republican lawmaker to file the ethics complaint.
"I want political agendas, right or left, out of the schools," McDermott said. "I want the teachers to spend the precious little time they have with students educating them in the basics. English teacher should focus on English, things like sentence structure, and not some mainlander’s political viewpoint of social justice. Make no mistake, this program only presents one side of the story."
The “agenda” of the program concerns McDermott, because he said there's obvious “social engineering,” including a “disproportionate focus on normalizing homosexuality,” while also trying to discredit Christian beliefs.
“The theme of this curriculum is so called ‘anti-bias’ unless, of course, you are a person of faith. One example is the following: ‘Patrick is being raised in a very strict and exclusionary fundamentalist Christian home…’. If that is not biased I do not know what is,” McDemott said.
Costello said the SPLC has worked for 22 years to eliminate prejudice and bias, and its program in the schools aims at include everyone from all backgrounds and religions and help children feel "welcomed, valued and respected" so they have a better learning environment. She said children who feel rejected, unseen or invisible do not perform as well in school.
McDermott said the group’s program is biased and has no place in the school system.
“The Southern Poverty Law Center targets Christian and pro-family groups such as Focus on the Family and Catholic Family News as hate groups, bigots and homophobes because they do not agree with same-sex marriage, or other aberrant behaviors,” McDermott said.
However, Costello, a Catholic school history teacher for nearly two decades, maintained the SPLC is not biased against religious organizations, and in fact works with both Christian and Jewish organizations.
McDermott is the same legislator challenging the Department of Education’s implementation of Pono Choices, a controversial sex-education program for children 11 to 13 in public middle schools. The program is under review by an appointed Board of Education working group.
McDermott’s staff reviewed the Teaching Tolerance materials and said "while race, gender and physical disabilities are discussed, almost 25 percent of the example scenarios deal with gay acceptance. Why is the gay population, which is no more than 4 percent of the general population, consistently disproportionately represented in these new teaching materials?”
"There is real tension around the LGBT issues and some faith based people. We work to find common ground. Every parent wants their child to feel safe and accepted at school. We want everyone to get along even if they do not share the same values," Costello said.
Costello said the pilot program is still being revised and Hawaii teachers across the state are having input into the final product. Some teachers have told the law center that they believe more information on native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders should be included, and the law center is working to incorporate that suggestion, she said. Costello also offered to meet with McDermott or his staff via Skype to give them access to the full curriculum and to review it with them.
"We have nothing to hide," Costello said.
Reach Malia Zimmerman at Malia@hawaiireporter.com
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