HONOLULU — Hawaii’s Board of Education has approved phasing out distance learning curriculum that parents and teachers complained contained racist and sexist content and will send parents a letter acknowledging the Acellus program was selected hastily during the pandemic without proper vetting.
The unanimous vote Thursday goes further than Superintendent Christina Kishimoto’s letter to parents this week that said state Department of Education reviewers recommended discontinuing use of Acellus “due to its inconsistency in quality and rigor.”
One of the findings in the four-page review by the department was that the distance learning curriculum conflicted with “policies addressing academic program, standards, curriculum, discrimination and religion.”
Kishimoto told board members education officials launched into a review as soon as problems surfaced.
“We did not sit on our hands on this at all,” she said.
Acellus was never aimed at being a permanent option for remote learning, she said, but that evaluating different types of online curriculum takes time.
A review should have happened in July instead of in September, said board member Bruce Voss.
Some have complained Acellus’ multiple-choice format lacks rigor and contains questions that are racist toward Black Americans and others.
“After only 3 weeks of using the program, I decided to stop due to the lack of quality, sexism, and inappropriate content I found on the program,” Paige Kemerer, a third grade teacher at Kapaa Elementary, wrote in testimony to the board.
“In problems, girls are described as pretty and depicted doing domestic chores like baking or washing dishes,” she added. “Boys are described as smart or brave and depicted playing sports and doing outside activities. Boys are shown in many careers and leadership positions but girls are shown in far fewer of these roles.”
Kemerer said she reached out to Acellus about her concerns and that the company agreed to change “Congressmen” to “members of Congress,” but ignored other examples of gender stereotypes she shared.
Acellus representatives haven’t returned messages seeking comment from The Associated Press.
According to the Missouri-based company, schools nationwide use Acellus. Some schools have dropped the program after complaints.
Testimony from some in Hawaii urged the board to keep Acellus.
Elton Kinoshita, principal of Lanai High and Elementary, wrote that his small school struggles to offer diverse courses.
He worried that students pursuing honors certificates in science, engineering, technology and math won’t be able to fulfill requirements if they can no longer use Acellus courses for math credit.
Shawna Brizzolara, a parent of a Kalaheo High School student, wrote that Acellus “provides plenty of support if a topic needs further explanation and enough repetition needed to learn. As far as any politically or social correctness we have not encountered inappropriate material.”
It’s not clear how the statewide school district will phase out Acellus by the end of the school year and transition to other remote learning options.
“We can’t really just pull the rug out from everyone at this point,” said board Chairperson Catherine Payne, who recommended phasing out Acellus, adding that she hopes principals and parents will have some flexibility.