Hawaii lawmaker challenges Alabama group’s ‘Teaching Tolerance’

UNDER FIRE: Morris Dees, co-founder and chief trial counsel at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama, is the target of a complaint filed by a Hawaii lawmaker.
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UNDER FIRE: Morris Dees, co-founder and chief trial counsel at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama, is the target of a complaint filed by a Hawaii lawmaker.

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU — Hawaii state Rep. Bob McDermott has asked the Alabama State Bar Disciplinary Commission to investigate the Southern Poverty Law Center’s top administrators.

This comes after the Alabama-based nonprofit paid Hawaii public school teachers $250 to attend a workshop and implement the center’s K-12 English and history “Teaching Tolerance” curriculum.


Hawaii law prevents an outside organization from paying public employees, including teachers, to influence the performance of their official duties, or provide extra compensation for official duties from outside sources, McDermott said, calling the stipend a “bribe.”

The complaint filed by the legislator specifically targets SPLC’s co-founder and chief trial counsel Morris Dees and the organization’s president, Jack Cohen.

“I want political agendas, right or left, out of the schools,” McDermott said.

SPLC declined to comment on the complaint.

However, Maureen Costello, director of the Teaching Tolerance program, disputes McDermott’s accusations.

NOT HIM: Rep. Bob McDermott doesn’t want his children, who attend public school, exposed to the “Teaching Tolerance” curriculum

She said the organization works around the country within the guidelines of the various school districts, either by donating to the schools or paying a small stipend to teachers who help improve the pilot program. Costello said Hawaii approved teachers receiving the stipends.

Costello said SPLC has worked for 22 years to eliminate prejudice and bias, and its program in the schools includes 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 don’t perform as well in school.

“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.

McDermott argues the group’s program is biased against Christians and has no place in the school system.

The pilot program is still being revised, Costello said, and Hawaii teachers across the state are providing input into the final product. Some teachers have told the law center they believe more information on native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders should be included, and SPLC is working to incorporate that suggestion, she said.

This is the third time McDermott has taken aim at the Teaching Tolerance program.

He filed an ethics complaint against Department of Education Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi on Feb. 28 for allowing the teacher training to move forward, saying SPLC’s paid access to Hawaii classrooms is a violation of Hawaii law. He also wrote a cease and desist letter to Matayoshi on March 12.

The Department of Education hasn’t commented on the ethics complaint against its superintendent, only saying it’s under review.

McDermott is the same legislator challenging the Department of Education’s implementation of Pono Choices, a controversial sex-education program for children ages 11 to 13 in public middle schools. The program is under review by an appointed Board of Education working group.

Reach Malia Zimmerman at Malia@hawaiireporter.com





  1. I commend any politicians who appears to be looking out for ant education glitches or violations in the Hawaii Education system. As most know, we have MANY problems with our education system, endemic of fostering mainland policies on our island system. AND let's not even talk about where all the monies funded to improve the future of the islands, through the children's education, GOES. The UH astronomy department need to find the black hole that sucks away the funds for education. Again, go get em Bob.

    • I know this is about the Hawaiian educational system, but this year there has been a totally opposite shift in how the
      schools are teaching?…brainwashing our kids. It's called Core Values training and it sounds exactly like what you're facing in Hawaii. This is one of the most threatening, bold, in your face moves that I have ever seen allowed in our public educational system. It seems they're throwing standard teaching methods out and replacing it with the Core Corriculum (values) training. If you who are in Hawaii are against those who would turn our educational institutions into political battle grounds and hinder your children from learning and higher educational knowledge, please let Bob know that you will throw your support behind him. Otherwise, do nothing and forfeit your children's education because they will not be prepared well to live in the real world. As for you on the mainland, get involved and let the administrators of curriculum know that you won't tolerate your childs educational years be wasted with this political fiasco. The best to you Bob

  2. This is his motivation: "McDermott argues the group’s program is biased against Christians…." Because teaching tolerance of diversity– tolerance/respect/understanding/appreciation of all ethnicities and religions equal to white christians — this threatens Bob McDermott. God bless America, but make sure it's the christian god.

  3. Time and tax dollars should not be put into teaching tolerance in school; it's not a school subject. Math, English, History, Physics, and Biology are school subjects. Tolerance is something taught at home. With the way aptitude and test scores have plummeted over the years in the basic school courses, we can't afford to dig the holes our schools are in any deeper by diving into teachings on philosophical and controversial subjects. Yes, tolerance is a controversial issue, because it's advocacy is increasingly coming forth from intolerant people. Really. How can tolerance be professed by people intolerant of the religuious beliefs of others?

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