HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A state lawmaker has filed an ethics complaint against the Department of Education because he said it broke the law by allowing an outside nonprofit to pay teachers stipends for attending a controversial anti-bias workshop.
The Department of Education held the two-day training session at Wist Hall on the University of Hawaii Manoa campus a couple of weeks ago to help social studies and English teachers work anti-bias and multicultural lessons into their teaching.
The curriculum was created by the Southern Poverty Law Center for the workshop attended by 28 public school teachers.
State Rep. Bob McDermott (R- Ewa, Ewa Beach) said it went far beyond teaching tolerance.
"It goes into forced acceptance, affirmation and celebration of behaviors that people of faith or creed or moral code find objectionable," McDermott said.
McDermott is upset that suggested reading lists for children in kindergarten through 2nd grade include a short story called "10,000 Dresses," about a little boy who likes to wear dresses.
There's a second story about two gay penguins.
"Why does a first grader need to know about two homosexual penguins? Please, tell me. Are we trying to indoctrinate, brainwash them?" McDermott asked.
The Department of Education paid teachers who attended the workshop $159 stipends because the second day of the workshop was on a Saturday when they'd normally not be working.
Those teachers were also eligible for another $250 stipend from the Southern Poverty Law Center, if they implemented and submitted one lesson stemming from what they learned at the workshop, wrote up five implementation logs and agreed to be observed teaching the anti-bias material in the classroom.
"You can't give cash to teachers to influence what they're doing," McDermott said.
McDermott said that's against state ethics law that said no state employee is allowed to accept a gift that's "intended to influence" ... "... official duties or is intended as a reward for official action..."
"Free training and then a cash inducement on top of it, to influence the curriculum, by an outside group, mind you, is objectionable. And it's illegal," McDermott said.
"Department guidelines make it clear that teachers may receive stipends for participation in voluntary training that takes place outside of official work hours," said Donalyn Dela Cruz, the DOE's communications director.
"It is not uncommon for teachers to receive an additional stipend from educational partners for required supplemental work," Dela Cruz said.
Dela Cruz could not provide a detailed breakdown of how often outside groups pay teachers to attend similar training sessions.
"I don't believe that the teachers who put in the extra time to work on their profession would interpret" the stipend from Southern Poverty Law Center as an improper gift, Dela Cruz said. "There is additional work that each teacher does to receive the stipend; it is voluntary and above what their official duties call for. While stipends are common practice, there are guidelines. Stipends are a small amount paid for additional work during non-work hours."
Les Kondo, the executive director of the state Ethics Commission, said his office is reviewing the case to decide whether to launch a more formal investigation.
"We welcome the review from the Ethics Commission regarding this issue,"
Dela Cruz said.
The DOE held the workshop to create a pilot program for the Southern Poverty Law Center's curriculum called Perspectives for a Diverse America.
The curriculum includes three components, according to a DOE memo. First, anti-bias standards of identity, diversity, justice and action. Second, an anthology of multicultural texts and third, flexible components for critically teaching texts that include vocabulary development, reading comprehension, discussion, persuasive writing and social action.
Besides the stipends for the workshops, up to ten neighbor island teachers were provided airfare and ground transportation, according to a DOE memo, as well as per diem pay.