Parents, teachers urged to share examples of ‘concerning content’ in learning platform

Hawaii public schools will start the first month with distance learning.
Hawaii public schools will start the first month with distance learning.(Hawaii News Now/file)
Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 1:41 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 16, 2020 at 1:45 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Education Department has created an online form for parents, teachers and others to share examples of “concerning content” they find in an online learning platform being used by tens of thousands of Hawaii public school students.

The form, available here, is part of the department’s efforts to weigh continued use of Acellus Learning Accelerator after scores of complaints from parents and teachers.

Some public schools have already abandoned the platform, with at least a handful saying they’d identified examples of racist or insensitive content. But many others have stuck with it.

And the department said they need more information to determine how to proceed.

In a memo to the Board of Education, which is set to discuss the issue at its meeting Thursday, schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said Hawaii public and public charter schools purchased nearly 79,000 licenses for Acellus to provide full or supplementary learning.

Parents who are concerned about Acellus are being urged to contact their child’s school. But Acellus may be the only option for some subjects or for some students.

Right now, most Hawaii public school students are learning remotely.

The Education Department has stressed that instruction is being overseen by a teacher and that Acellus is meant as an additional aid not a replacement for all classroom learning.

Kishimoto also said the DOE is conducting a “comprehensive” review of the program, determining whether it aligns with state standards and looking to find inappropriate content.

Examples of that inappropriate content, shared by teachers and parents on social media, range from misspellings (including of Queen Liliuokalani’s name) to incorrect representations of Hawaiian history to multiple choice questions that rely on stereotypes.

One video from the platform, posted on Instagram, identified U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye as a “Japanese-American immigrant.” Civil Beat also recently highlighted another question on Acellus that asked seventh graders for the “names of the four islands that make up Japan.” One of the incorrect multiple choice answers: “Honolulu, Hickok, Achoo and Bleshu."

Testimony provided to the board included other examples — along with a number of angry parents questioning why the DOE hasn’t yet abandon the platform entirely.

Hundreds have signed a petition calling on the department to stop using Acellus.

The company, meanwhile, has sought to defend its overall program and said it is working to address content concerns. The debate comes as the department is also trying to come up with a plan for resuming in-person instruction broadly later this fall.

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