NOT THE THREE R’S: McDermott holds up a copy of notes from an 11-year-old student enrolled in the sex education classes in the state’s public schools. (file photo)
NOT THE THREE R’S: McDermott holds up a copy of notes from an 11-year-old student enrolled in the sex education classes in the state’s public schools. (file photo)
NOT THE THREE R’S: McDermott holds up a copy of notes from an 11-year-old student enrolled in the sex education classes in the state’s public schools. (file photo)

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU – Hawaii State Rep. Bob McDermott is slamming the University of Hawaii over its refusal to disclose data collected from middle school students during a controversial sex education program.

The Hawaii State Department of Education conducts “Pono Choices,” a sex education program for 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds, in partnership with university researchers from the Center on Disability Studies.

In October, McDermott asked the university for an overview of questions to children, and their responses.

Elmer Ka’ai Jr., director of advancement for the Office of the Chancellor, refused to disclose the information, saying in an Oct. 31 letter it could hurt the project and the university.

“The university does not release survey instruments of ongoing research studies while they are still being used. As research on the Pono Choices curriculum is still ongoing, no instruments will be released at this time,” Ka’ai said.

McDermott called the  refusal “scandalous.” He said the information should be readily available for parents and lawmakers.

He believes the university won’t disclose the data because researchers are asking 11-year-olds whether they’ve had sex, how many partners they’ve had and if they’ve had anal sex.

There are safeguards in place, Ka’ai said.

“All university subjects’ research is overseen by the University’s Institutional Review board, which is responsible for ensuring protection of human subjects,” Ka’ai wrote in response to McDermott’s inquiry.

Ka’ai told McDermott “legislative oversight of this research is neither necessary nor appropriate” and could have dire consequences for the state institution.

“Political influence over research could potentially impact accreditation,” Ka’ai warned.

The Pono Choices program sparked a firestorm.

Some parents and lawmakers said the program was inaccurate and inappropriate.

“I am certain that the first time many of these children have ever been exposed to the concept of anal sex was in Pono Choices, so how could it possibly be age appropriate?” McDermott asked.

McDermott, who has a 13-year-old son in public school, led the charge to pressure the state board to pull the curriculum.

He accused the DOE of “normalizing homosexual lifestyles” and “putting students at risk by withholding critical facts.”

McDermott, who released his own extensive 19-page report on the curriculum’s flaws and inaccuracies after consulting several physicians, said Pono Choices was never certified as medically accurate.

Families were told Pono Choices was a “new curriculum” being tested or a “pilot project,” McDermott said, but they were never told their students were participating in a research project.

Under pressure from parents and some lawmakers, the DOE twice pulled the program. The DOE formed a task force, which announced 11 new recommendations June 6 and stopped the implementation of the program until developers addressed the concerns and inaccuracies. The DOE announced some key revisions before reinstating the program in September.

The most important revision, according to the DOE, was making the program an “opt in” for students rather than an “opt out,” meaning parents will have to give permission for their children to participate.

McDermott pledged to continue to obtain data from the university.

In a response, McDermott said the institution’s lack of transparency is especially “repugnant” because the university is defending its right to “experiment” on school children.

“The university believes I am trying to influence its research. But I’m not. I’m trying to kill the program,” McDermott said. “Let’s be absolutely clear about that.”

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Malia Zimmerman is the editor and co-founder of Hawaii Reporter. She has worked as a consultant and contributor to several dozen media outlets including ABC 20/20, FOX News, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, UPI and the Washington Times. Malia has been listed as one of the nation’s top "Web Proficients, Virtuosi, and Masters" and "Hawaii's new media thought leader" by http://www.thewebstersdictionary.com Reach her at Malia@hawaiireporter.com