Parents: Online learning program has racist, sexist content

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Charles Timtim

This photo provided by Charles Timtim shows his daughter, name withheld by parents, doing schoolwork from home in Waipahu, Hawaii, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. Timtim's mother doesn't think it's safe for her daughter to be back at school but she also doesn't want her exposed to an online learning program called Acellus that misspelled and mispronounced the last queen to rule the Hawaiian kingdom. Parents spotting questionable content on Acellus is forcing some school districts across the country to reconsider the program or stop using it. (Charles Timtim via AP)

HONOLULU – Zan Timtim doesn't think it's safe for her eighth-grade daughter to return to school in person during the coronavirus pandemic but also doesn't want her exposed to a remote learning program that misspelled and mispronounced the name of Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last monarch to rule the Hawaiian Kingdom.

Timtim's daughter is Native Hawaiian and speaks Hawaiian fluently, “so to see that inaccuracy with the Hawaiian history side was really upsetting,” she said.

Even before the school year started, Timtim said she heard from other parents about racist, sexist and other concerning content on Acellus, an online program some students use to learn from home.

Parents have called out “towelban” as a multiple-choice answer for a question about a terrorist group and Grumpy from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" described as a “woman hater.” Some also say the program isn't as rigorous as it should be.

As parents help their children navigate remote classes, they’re more aware of what's being taught, and it's often not simply coming from an educator on Zoom. Some schools have turned to programs like Acellus to supplement online classes by teachers, while others use it for students who choose to learn from home as campuses reopen. And because of the scramble to keep classes running during a health crisis, vetting the curriculum may not have been as thorough as it should have been, experts say.

Thousands of schools nationwide use Acellus, according to the company, and parents' complaints are leading some districts to reconsider or stop using the program.

“We wouldn't have had this visibility if it weren't for all of us at home, often sitting side by side and making sure: ‘Is this working for you?'" said Adrienne Robillard, who withdrew her seventh-grade daughter from Kailua Intermediate School after concluding Acellus lacked substance and featured racist content.

When school officials said her daughter could do distance learning without Acellus, Robillard reenrolled her.