- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - A Republican lawmaker in Hawaii has taken issue with one of the state’s sex education program, saying it “sexualizes the innocent” by teaching 11-year-old children about anal sex.

Rep. Bob McDermott also criticized the Department of Education on Monday for being secretive about the “Pono Choices” curriculum, one of several sex education programs available in public schools.

“Don’t tell kids that anal sex with a condom is safe. It’s not,” McDermott said. “Why are you talking about anal sex with 11-year-olds?”

But the Department of Education responded to McDermott’s concerns by creating a volunteer working group of parents, educators, religious leaders and health professionals to evaluate the curriculum’s appropriateness, said Donalyn Dela Cruz, spokeswoman for the Department of Education. They’re taking a look at its age-appropriateness and medical accuracy, she said.

“Overall we’re doing what’s right, and there’s no hiding there,” Dela Cruz said. “There are no secrets about what we’re doing.”

The working group has been meeting privately so it can focus on improving the curriculum, without the distractions of other political agendas such as the debate over same-sex marriage, Dela Cruz said. Many of the critics of the Pono Choices program have never even looked at the curriculum, she added.

“We don’t want to make this a circus,” Dela Cruz said. “We’re really asking the public who volunteered to do this to take a real look at what the concerns are, versus the continuation of statements and misunderstanding.”

The Pono Choices curriculum was designed to teach teenagers about abstinence and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, Dela Cruz said. It was developed in conjunction with the University of Hawaii, which states on its website that the program covers anal sex because that is one way that sexually transmitted diseases are transmitted.

But McDermott has a problem with that, and he questions why the program doesn’t explain the “miracle of childbirth.” He said the program treats sexual activity before the age of 14 as a viable choice, and claimed the curriculum is medically inaccurate.

“They define the anus as genitalia, for starters,” McDermott said.

The working group has met several times since McDermott initially raised his concerns in November, Dela Cruz said. It will release a report in April. Meanwhile, the Pono Choices program has continued in some schools, Dela Cruz said. McDermott said that working group members signed nondisclosure agreements, but Dela Cruz said that allegation was not true.

Hawaii’s teen pregnancy rate is considered high, with 93 pregnancies occurring per 1,000 women aged 15-19, according to the Advocates for Youth, a Washington-based organization. Only 54 percent of Hawaii’s high school students reported using condoms the last time they had sexual intercourse, the lowest percent of any state in the nation, the group said.

Participation in sex education programs is voluntary, and parents are notified before a student begins the Pono Choices program, Dela Cruz said.

“The public does not want to see Pono Choices back,” McDermott said. “This is politicizing the education of the kids. It’s the sexualization of our young people.”

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