Honolulu, HI—November 17, 2020—Today, church/state separation watchdog organization American Atheists praised the Hawaii Department of Education (HIDOE) for reviewing its online public school programs for religious, racist, and misogynistic content.
HIDOE ultimately decided to discontinue its use of the online education system, Acellus Learning Accelerator. This decision comes after American Atheists sent a letter to Christina M. Kishimoto, the state superintendent of HIDOE, warning her about religious propaganda in online curricula.
“This is a victory for the separation of religion and government. Hawaii public school students will no longer be subjected to unconstitutional religious, sexist, and racist propaganda,” said Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy at American Atheists.
HIDOE included American Atheists’ letter as Exhibit 4 in its report (p. 74-79). In its executive summary, HIDOE’s Civil Rights Compliance Branch noted that American Atheists’ letter “should be viewed as a warning shot across the bow; the religious content in Acellus poses a significant risk of not ensuring the separation of church and state” (p. 45).
“We are pleased that the Hawaii Department of Education heeded our warning about this national issue. Thankfully, our concerns did not fall on deaf ears. Ms. Kishimoto and her department conducted an impressively thorough review to rectify the situation,” said Gill.
Among nearly a hundred infractions, HIDOE determined that Acellus was teaching religious legends—“Abraham and the Covenant,” “Moses and the Israelites,” “Soloman’s Temple,” “Jesus of Nazareth,” “Jesus: Parables and Teachings,” “Crucifixion of Jesus,” “Muhammad and the Angel Gabriel,” and “Christian Apostles and Churches”—as world history (p. 49-51). HIDOE notes that “this is religious instruction in a public school” and, on occasion, added that Acellus “presents Christian views as fact” (ibid.).
In addition, some of Acellus’s content was deemed racist in nature. For example, HIDOE found that a grade 10 US History class on the First Great Awakening “infers that slaves were not human prior to experiencing religion” (p. 58).
According to the last 23 pages of the report, Acellus removed much of the offending content, including the lessons on religious legends. It is unclear whether Acellus removed the content only from the lessons provided to Hawaii or if the same content was also eliminated for other public school systems using the program.
“We are pleased that Acellus attempted to rectify the situation and that HIDOE engaged in such an extensive review process. This week, in Hawaii, kids won,” said Gill. “However, we are concerned that Acellus may be peddling this inappropriate religious content to other public schools systems, and so we will continue to investigate this matter.”
In September, American Atheists prompted Edgenuity, another nationwide virtual learning provider, to remove similar religious content from its entire network.