[ OUR OPINION ]
Hurt feelings aside,
Schools decision was
the correct one
A wave of fear and invective has washed through the Hawaiian community since the Board of Trustees of Kamehameha Schools announced Thursday that a non-Hawaiian student has been accepted at its Maui school. The hurt feelings, especially from parents whose children may not have been admitted, are understandable. Nevertheless, the trustees made the right decision in admitting this outstanding student. When those who are upset by the decision can see past their disappointment, perhaps they will accept school officials' assurances that this development does not signal a radical change in Kamehameha's principal mission to educate Hawaiian youth.
Kamehameha Schools has admitted a well-qualified student who is not of Hawaiian ancestry.
In fact, the Maui decision comports with the will of Ke Ali'i Pauahi, whose fortune made the schools possible. It says that income from the estate should be spent on the "education of orphans, and others in indigent circumstances, giving the preference to Hawaiians of pure or part aboriginal blood." The operative word is "preference"; nowhere does the will say that non-Hawaiians are to be excluded. In fact, non-Hawaiians attended the schools in the 1930s through 1960s.
The admission of Kalani Rosell to the Maui campus of the schools also appears consistent with the spirit and letter of the schools' strategic plan adopted in 2000, after wide discussion within the Kamehameha community. While the focus is rightly on more and better education for children of Hawaiian ancestry, the plan does not say that others are to be excluded. Beyond that, amendments to the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court decisions and a raft of laws have made it clear that discrimination based on race has no place in American life today.
Recently the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that elections for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs must be open to all citizens, not restricted to those of Hawaiian ancestry. By implication, that applies to other facets of life in this state. Kamehameha Schools had just dropped the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps to avoid a legal challenge to its admissions policy; federal law forbids the Army from contracting with an organization that discriminates by race. By admitting a non-Hawaiian student, the trustees appear to be seeking to preclude a similar challenge in the courts.
Some may argue that Kamehameha Schools is a private institution, and thus not subject to those legal requirements. But the school is exempt from taxes, which makes its policies a legitimate subject of public interest.
The dissatisfaction of a parent whose child has been denied admission can generate only compassion. The competition to get into a first-class private school in Hawaii is surely intense, given the less-than-stellar reputation of the public schools. Rejection, therefore, also is felt intensely. At the same time, some of those voicing dissent have, however inadvertently, come close to sounding like racists.
If the trustees are to be faulted, it was in failing to communicate adequately with their constituency in the Kamehameha ohana. They evidently blindsided the alumni, parents and friends of the schools in a lapse in Public Relations 101, and should have known better. In an effort to make up for this stumble, the board members and CEO Hamilton McCubbin held a press conference last week and met with alumni groups yesterday.
When he enters the eighth grade in the coming school year, the faculty, administration and especially students of the Maui campus have an opportunity to make Rosell feel welcome, especially as he is a straight-A student who will undoubtedly bring credit to the school. To do otherwise would be to taint the image of Kamehameha Schools for a long time.
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