Wealthy school serves modern Hawaiians, battles federal courts
HONOLULU – Sitting atop a lush green hillside with a panoramic view of Honolulu and the Pacific beyond, the prestigious Hawaiians-only Kamehameha Schools is much beloved by its students and alumni. But the private school envisioned by a Hawaiian princess may soon be changing.A non-Hawaiian teenager is suing the school over its exclusive admissions policy requiring that applicants prove Hawaiian bloodlines.The boy was rejected for admission in 2003, and his lawsuit led to a ruling earlier this month from a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the race-based policy violates federal anti-discrimination laws. The school is asking the full court to reconsider.Michael Chun, headmaster of the school, said the Hawaiians-only policy follows the 1883 will of a princess who was concerned Hawaiians would suffer disadvantages. Ten years after her death, the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown by a group of U.S. businessmen and sugar planters.”Their culture was shredded, their spirit was broken, and their sense of sovereignty and independence was taken away,” said Michael Chun said. “She saw as one of the ways to help her people survive was through education.”Since the appeals court’s ruling, alumni and other Native Hawaiians have risen to the school’s defense. On Aug. 20, some 400 marched in San Francisco to petition the full appeals court to review the admissions case. On Aug. 6, more than 15,000 demonstrated across the islands to protest what they see as an assault on their culture.Since its humble start with a couple of dozen boys, Kamehameha has expanded to campuses on other islands, becoming the largest and richest independent private elementary and secondary school in the nation.About 5,100 Hawaiian and part-Hawaiian students from kindergarten through 12th grade attend classes on the schools’ three campuses.Funded by a $6.2 billion trust, it is also Hawaii’s largest private landowner, with 365,000 acres, including resort, commercial and residential holdings.Former student Joshua Irvine said textbooks could never teach him what he learned when he transferred to the Oahu campus from a public school in a poor neighborhood.Poverty was no longer an issue, said Irvine, whose new friends wore collared blue and white uniforms and spoke “proper English,” instead of the pidgin English spoken among many local people. Irvine played flute in the school band and explored his passion for science in “top-notch” laboratories.”That you cannot replicate in a public school because of a lack of funding,” said Irvine, now 20, who’s double majoring in biological engineering and Spanish at the University of Hawaii.Jim Slagel, who has taught advanced placement English at Kamehameha for 16 years, said his students are no different from those he taught at public schools in the mainland.”It’s not a typical private school,” Slagel said. “We are still dealing with the lower social and economic students.”The school’s powerful economic assets allow it to subsidize tuition costs for 60 percent of its students, making admissions highly prized and extremely competitive. Only one in eight applicants is admitted.Kamehameha’s $2,686 annual tuition falls well below other Hawaii private schools, including highly rated Punahou School’s $12,885 and Iolani School’s $12,200, neither of which is race restrictive.In addition to providing a birth certificate to prove Hawaiian ancestry, applicants for grade seven and higher at Kamehameha must pass an admissions test, undergo interviews with professors and write an essay.The school’s stated policy is that non-Hawaiians may be admitted if there are openings after Hawaiians who meet the criteria have been offered admission.But the school in recent years has enrolled only two non-Hawaiians.Chun said opening the school to all students would deny many underprivileged Native Hawaiian children a better future.Native Hawaiian families are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than the state’s general population, according to the school’s 2005 Native Hawaiian Educational Assessment report.Kamehameha senior Max Lindsey, 17, also noted that, even with the Hawaiians-only policy, the school’s Oahu campus is diverse.”Many of us are multi-race,” he said. “We are not just Hawaiians.”—On the Net:Kamehameha Schools: http://www.ksbe.edu/
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