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Friday, April 28, 2000

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Two Hawaiian
schools on Kauai
asked to share building

One school says differing polices
on teaching English and a lack
of space make sharing impractical

By Pat Omandam


The Office of Hawaiian Affairs board of trustees has asked two competing Hawaiian language schools that are fighting for control of the former Kekaha Armory on Kauai to share the partly renovated building for now.

In doing so, the board by a 6-3 vote yesterday rescinded a March 1999 decision that gave 'Aha Punana Leo Inc. $511,300 to complete renovation of the armory. Instead, the board voted to give the money to Kamehameha Schools, which would oversee completion of the renovations if both sides agree to share the building.

"All I want to do is be fair to all the keiki of Niihau," said Kauai trustee Donald Cataluna.

The controversy began about a year ago when two teachers left Ke Kula Niihau O Kekaha, a Hawaiian immersion program operated by 'Aha Punana Leo at the armory. The two teachers formed a home-school program, Niihau School of Kekaha, so that students could study in the Hawaiian dialect spoken on Niihau as well as in the English language.

The schools have philosophical differences on when English should be taught. Ke Kula O Niihau teaches English as a second language starting in the fifth grade, while Niihau School believes it should be taught with Hawaiian early so students are not at a disadvantage when they get older. 'Aha Punana Leo administers Hawaiian language programs statewide.

Niihau School was able to draw about two dozen students away from Ke Kula O Niihau and is holding classes at a public park pavilion. Ke Kula's student body ranges between 26 and 42 students.

"We would have loved to share the building with the other school, but we were never given the chance," said Judy Naumu-Stewart, a retired Department of Education teacher who is helping run Niihau School.

But Ke Kula O Niihau teachers and students, who packed the OHA boardroom yesterday, said having two schools in the same building would hurt efforts to teach Niihau youth entirely in Hawaiian.

One youth gave tearful testimony before trustees. "Please don't give half of the building to someone else," said eighth-grader Ku'ualohalani Kanahele, who said it would be confusing to hear two languages spoken at the school if Niihau School students move in.

Also, Ke Kula O Niihau supporters said there physically isn't enough space to house two schools there. Moreover, they said they have waited for years for a place to teach their program and it should not be put in jeopardy because of the other school.

Ke Kula officials urged OHA to allow them to have the lease to the building. When the armory closed, the Department of Land and Natural Resources passed on the lease to OHA, which is supposed to pass it on to 'Aha Punana Leo for the Ke Kula program.

Hi'ipoi Kanahele, a teacher at Ke Kula O Niihau, said parents who send their children there want them to be taught first in the Hawaiian language. While it hurts to see the community split over the issue, she asked trustees to grant the school the lease as originally planned.

"Aren't we considered Hawaiians too?" Hi'ipoi Kanahele said.

Ilei Beniamina, a Niihau native and 'Aha Punana Leo official, said Ke Kula began with classes in 1993 at the same park pavilion used now by Niihau School. Both programs have tried to reach common ground to no avail.

The OHA board also voted to appropriate $391,087 to Niihau School for its bilingual education program, provided the school can secure a permanent site and show a detailed fiscal plan on how the money will be spent.

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