Schools’ Hawaiians-Only Policy Voided
A federal appeals court on Tuesday struck down the exclusive Kamehameha Schools’ policy of admitting only Native Hawaiians, saying it was “unlawful race discrimination.”
Overturning a Honolulu federal judge’s decision supporting the school, a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled 2-1 that the practice at the private school violates federal civil rights law even though it receives no federal funding.
The case was brought by an unidentified non-Hawaiian student who was turned down for admission in 2003.
“I think it is a terrific decision,” said John Goemans, an attorney for the boy. “It is a very big event for Hawaiian history.”
Eric Grant, a Sacramento attorney who filed the suit with Goemans, said he and his client were “overjoyed,” and said the boy’s identity would probably be revealed next week. “We look at it as a total vindication,” he said.
Kamehameha Schools will ask the full 9th Circuit to review the case, said Kathleen Sullivan, an attorney for the school.
About 5,100 Native Hawaiian students and students of part native ancestry from kindergarten through 12th grade attend school on the three campuses, which are partly funded by a trust now worth $6.2 billion.
The appeals court reversed a Nov. 17, 2003, decision by U.S. District Judge Alan Kay, who ruled that the Kamehameha Schools could continue the Native Hawaiians-only admissions policy because of its unique historical circumstances.
The Kamehameha Schools were established under the 1883 will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, which directed the trust to “erect and maintain in the Hawaiian Islands two schools, each for boarding and day scholars, one for boys and one for girls, to be known as, and called the Kamehameha Schools.”
The three appeals court judges wrote that they “do not read that document to require the use of race as an admissions prerequisite.”
Admissions at the private schools are prized for the quality of education and the low cost compared to other private schools in the islands. Non-Native Hawaiians may be admitted if openings exist after those of native descent who meet admissions criteria have been offered a spot, school officials have said.
Although Kamehameha Schools states that its policy is to give preference to children of Hawaiian ancestry, it still constitutes discrimination on the basis of race in violation of federal law, the lawsuit said.
Kamehameha Schools was criticized by its alumni and the Native Hawaiian community in 2002 for admitting a non-Hawaiian to its Maui campus.