A 12-year-old and his mother have agreed to drop their lawsuit challenging the exclusive Kamehameha Schools’ Hawaiians-only admissions policy in exchange for the boy being allowed to stay at the school until he graduates.
The settlement, announced Friday, prompted criticism from Hawaiian activists who fear the move will lead to more non-Hawaiians attending the schools, which were established under the 1884 will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop to educate “the children of Hawaii.”
“I’m upset, angry and frustrated,” said Vicky Holt-Takamine, president of the Ilioulaokalani Coalition, which organized rallies in support of the Kamehameha Schools. “I think there are a lot of Hawaiians who are going to be upset.”
Admissions to the schools are highly prized in Hawaii, both for the quality of education and the low cost compared to other private schools. About 4,800 Hawaiian and part-Hawaiian students from kindergarten through 12th grade attend the three campuses, which are partly funded by a trust worth $5.5 billion.
The admission policy was created to remedy socio-economic and educational disadvantages suffered by Hawaiians as a result of the ousting of the Hawaiian monarchy, but non-Hawaiians may be admitted if there are openings left over, school officials say.
Brayden Mohica-Cummings and his mother, Kalena Santos, sued the school in August, saying the boy’s admission was rescinded after he was unable to prove his Hawaiian ancestry. The school said Santos misrepresented the boy’s ethnic heritage by claiming he was part Hawaiian.
A federal judge ordered that the boy be allowed to attend the school while his lawsuit and another legal challenge to the admissions policy were being resolved in court.
The settlement was approved unanimously by the schools’ board of trustees, said John Goemans, a lawyer for Santos and her son. It must be approved by U.S. District Judge David Ezra, who scheduled a hearing for Thursday.
“It will be a wonderful thing for Brayden and for his mother because that’s exactly what they wanted,” Goemans said.
Members of the school board said the decision to settle was prompted in part by a desire to avoid setting an unwanted legal precedent, since the school is facing an appeal in a separate but similar case.
In that lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Alan Kay ruled Nov. 17 that Kamehameha’s admissions policy was legal and justified. But attorneys plan to appeal.
Board of trustees Chairwoman Constance H. Lau said settling Brayden’s case simplifies the issues and improves the school’s chances of winning if the other case is appealed.
Three years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Hawaiian is a racial designation and that the state law restricting the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ elections to Hawaiians constituted unconstitutional racial discrimination.
The Kamehameha Schools last year admitted a non-Hawaiian to its Maui campus but came under fire from alumni and the Hawaiian community for doing so. This year, the schools admitted only students of Hawaiian ancestry.